Office Bitness (64bit or 32bit / x64 or x86)

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I recently had to rebuild my Windows 8.1 laptop. In fact, this is the first real piece of work that I am doing on it while I reinstall apps in the background. As part of the process I had to re-install Microsoft Office. As long as I have been using a 64bit OS as my standard desktop (Windows 7 was the first OS that I only ran as x64)) as I have always used the 64bit version of Office. When downloading the ISO for Office 2013 SP1 from the MS Partner site, I noticed that Microsoft has posted the following message:

Important: Microsoft strongly recommends the use of 32-bit (x86) versions of Office 2013, Project 2013, and Visio 2013 applications as the default option for all platforms. Learn more about the deployment considerations for x64 and x86 at TechNet.

I consider myself somewhat of a technically savvy user (maybe a poor assumption?) and I have always assumed that all things being equal 64bit is better than 32bit. Just like 32bit is better than 16bit (and 16bit is better than 8bit etc.)

So Off I went to TechNet to find out why this strong recommendation from Microsoft. Considering how hard it has been to get users and enterprises to give up Windows XP, you’d think that they want everyone to upgrade to the latest generation of tools right?

Here is the key reason for the strong recommendation directly from TechNet:

32-bit Office is recommended for most users

We recommend the 32-bit version of Office, because it is more compatible with most other applications, especially third-party add-ins. This is why the 32-bit version of Office 2013 is installed by default, even on 64-bit Windows operating systems. On these systems, the 32-bit Office client is supported as a Windows-32-on-Windows-64 (WOW64) installation. WOW64 is the x86 emulator that enables 32-bit Windows-based applications to run seamlessly on 64-bit Windows systems. This lets users continue to use existing Microsoft ActiveX Controls and COM add-ins with 32-bit Office.

So what about my assumption that all things being equal x64 is better than x86? Well, I wasn’t wrong but it turns out that all things aren’t equal. Third party vendors don’t pay equal attention to 32bit office and 64bit office. There are other good reasons to consider Office x86 such as:

  1. The 64-bit version of Microsoft Office isn’t compatible with any other 32-bit version of Office programs. So you must first uninstall all 32-bit versions of Office programs before you install the 64-bit version of Office.
  2. Any add-ins you want to run for Office must also be 64-bit editions.
  3. Third-party ActiveX controls and add-ins. None of these work with the 64-bit version of Office.
  4. There is no 64-bit version of Visual Basic 6, so many of these objects need to be ported and rewritten.
  5. Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) won’t work unless you manually update the “Declare” statements.
  6. Compiled Access databases The .MDE and .ACCDE files, a common way for Access application developers to distribute solutions and protect their intellectually property, don’t work in the 64-bit version of Office. You must contact the application developer to recompile, retest, and redistribute the solution in the 64-bit version.

With all of the reasons not to use 64bit Office, why on earth would anyone chose to use it? It still makes sense for some users such as the following examples from TechNet:

  1. Excel expert users who work with complex Excel worksheets can benefit from using 64-bit Office 2013. This is because 64-bit Office doesn’t impose hard limits on file size. Instead, workbook size is limited only by available memory and system resources. On the other hand, 32-bit Office is limited to 2 gigabytes (GB) of virtual address space, shared by Excel, the workbook, and add-ins that run in the same process. (Worksheets smaller than 2 GB on disk might still contain enough data to occupy 2 GB or more of addressable memory.) You can learn more in Excel specifications and limits and Data Model specifications and limits.
  2. Users who use Project 2013 also benefit when they use Project files over 2 GB, especially when they are dealing with many subprojects to a large project.
  3. In-house Office solution developers should have access to the 64-bit Office 2013 for testing and updating these solutions.
  4. Office 2013 offers enhanced default security protections through Hardware Data Execution Prevention (DEP). (DEP) is a set of hardware and software technologies that perform additional checks on memory to help prevent malicious code from running on a system. For 64-bit installs, DEP will always be enforced for Office applications. On 32-bit installs, you can configure DEP by using Group Policy settings.

If you need to deploy both versions of Office with Configuration Manager, you can use the same application with different deployment types as I’ve explained in my previous post Managing 32 bit and 64 bit versions of applications using Global Conditions, Requirement Rules and Deployment Types.

BTW – I’m running 32bit Office now.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Office Bitness (64bit or 32bit / x64 or x86)

    Paul said:
    April 10, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Interesting read. Thanks Colin

    Fred said:
    December 30, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Useful.

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