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Important Updates Released for Office 2008 and 2004

Two months after the initial release of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit has pushed out the first update to the software suite, fixing a wide variety of bugs. Refreshingly, Microsoft described the changes in an entirely reasonable amount of detail. The Microsoft Office 2008 12.0.1 Update requires Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later, and you can get it from the Microsoft AutoUpdate utility or download it from Microsoft’s Web site as a 114.1 MB download.

(Microsoft updated the Office 2008 Microsoft AutoUpdate utility itself to version 2.1.1 back in February 2008, and you must have that version to be able to download future updates, according to the Entourage Help Blog. The Office 2008 version of Microsoft AutoUpdate is located in /Library/Application Support/MAU2.0, and can either update itself, or can be updated if you choose Check for Updates in the Help menu of any Office application. Keep in mind that the Office 2004 version of Microsoft AutoUpdate, which you must keep if you want it to continue to update Office 2004 applications automatically, is located in the /Applications

For Word 2008, Microsoft squashed the crash on first launch bug triggered when Word 2008 tried to import settings from previous versions of the program. Blank pages are no longer printed to certain printers, documents with Word 2007 for Windows equations open properly, citation deletion has been improved, and font substitution has been improved for people running on PowerPC-based Macs who are importing Word for Windows documents. And, in the “Mamma mia!” bug, Word 2008 no longer crashes when you try to check spelling and grammar when using an Italian keyboard.

Excel 2008 sees overall stability improvements, better support for a second monitor positioned above the primary display, improved handling of ledger sheets, proper formatting of rotated text after deleting columns, a fix for the bug that caused the formatting of empty cells to change unexpectedly in .xls files, and increased reliability when copying and pasting linked data and charts. But most important for working stiffs who rely on Excel, the WORKDAY function now calculates correctly when used on a sheet that uses the Mac’s default 1904 date system.

With PowerPoint 2008, Microsoft improved the launch time and fixed a bug that caused some characters to be spaced too close together. More critically, the update eliminates a problem that caused possible data loss under Mac OS X 10.5 when saving a PowerPoint file to a network volume using the SMB protocol. Competing for importance is another fix for a bug that could cause a .ppt PowerPoint file containing a link to a sound file such as an MP3 to become corrupted and unreadable.

Entourage 2008 features several enterprise-level improvements, including a fix for a problem that prevented Entourage from connecting to IBM Lotus Domino servers via IMAP, and improvements when synchronizing calendar events and contacts with Microsoft Exchange Server. All Entourage users will appreciate sounds working properly in Leopard, better import of rules and identities from Entourage 2004 (especially if you’re Swedish!), improved stability when syncing via Sync Services, and better reliability in the Database Utility when rebuilding a large database.

On the security side, Office 12.0.1 includes fixes for security vulnerabilities that could have allowed remote code execution if the user opened a specially crafted Excel file. This problem affects Windows versions of Excel as well, and for those using Excel 2000 SP3 on Windows, Microsoft considers it of critical severity.

Lastly, the update fixes a problem in the Office Installer that caused Office 2008 program files to be improperly installed using User ID 502. Since the first user on a Mac is generally UID 501, this could have given the second user unwarranted permissions. Dan Frakes covered this issue well over at Macworld. Although Microsoft’s otherwise-excellent release notes don’t state this explicitly, the update does go through and change all the Office program files so they are owned by UID 0 rather than UID 502. (If this doesn’t make much sense to you, either don’t worry about it or read Brian Tanaka’s “Take Control of Permissions in Leopard,” which is what I did to figure out how to verify the change.)

The Microsoft Office 2004 11.4.1 Update fixes the Excel vulnerability along with another security vulnerability that could enable remote code execution if the user opened a malformed file. It too can be retrieved from Microsoft either via Microsoft AutoUpdate or as a 13.2 MB standalone download. Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later is required, as is a completely up-to-date version of Office 11.4.0, which is most easily acquired by running Microsoft AutoUpdate and installing updates repeatedly until you have the latest version.

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