Microsoft Office 2008 SP2 for Mac Fail


Microsoft just put out a service pack for Microsoft Office 2008 for the Mac. Don’t install it. Nothing about this service pack appears to be unusual until you try to open certain files in Excel, PowerPoint or Word:

Microsoft PowerPoint Error

Microsoft PowerPoint Error

Clicking Yes takes you to a page titled, “I can’t open an Office document after I install Office 2008 SP2 Update,” which includes this gem:

Cause: This is a known issue with Office 2008 SP2 Update.
Solution: Save your Excel workbook by using an earlier version of Office 2008 for Mac.

Uh, how?  You just expect everyone to have another computer sitting around that hasn’t been patched yet?

Further investigation brings up a Microsoft knowledge base article about the Office 2008 SP2 problem, which states:

If updates do not resolve the issue, you can re-create or save the Excel workbook, Word document, or PowerPoint presentation in a file format other than Open XML. For example, you can save the file in the .xls, .doc, or .ppt file format.

That’s right – Office can’t open its own files.  I wasn’t doing any fancy file formatting, just using Office’s own defaults.  So I have to find another machine with an un-updated version of Office, then save the files in the last generation Office file format (thereby losing some cool formatting in the process too.)  I’m seeing similar complaints from other users in forums around the intertubez.

Unbelievable, inexcusable and frustrating.

Update August 6th: Good News and Bad News

So the good news is, Microsoft came out with a patch for the XML file issue.  The bad news is – well, I’ll let the screenshot speak for itself:

Fail Fail Fail Fail

Fail Fail Fail Fail

C’mon, guys…  And then thirty seconds later:

Nothing To See Here, Move Along

Nothing To See Here, Move Along

Who knows?  Who cares?  I can open my files again.  I’m not going to ask any more questions.

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23 Comments. Leave new

  • Are you having issues opening all files, or just specific ones? Your screenshot is from PowerPoint, but your blog post asserts that you can’t open any files at all.

    We have a known issue where some users are unable to open some files, and we’re actively working towards getting a fix out. If you can, please send me examples of documents that you are unable to open, with as much information as possible about the file’s lineage (such as which version of Office was used to create it, what versions of Office have been used to edit it, whether you have used any third-party applications to edit the file, whether it was previously saved as a .ppt file and later converted to .pptx, etc).

  • Well snap.

    I have already installed the update.

    I guess it is fortunate that I don’t use MS Office that much.

  • Dang. I was hoping that with this release, finally, Entourage’s “new mail” chime would happen at the same time as the “new mail” pop-up box. No dice, at least for me with my computer. So far, I haven’t had any new problems since the update, though, so either I’m lucky or my time has yet to come…

  • I was moaning about this on Twitter last week. I really can’t believe they’ve done this even though I basically wouldn’t put anything past Microsoft.

    I created a load of new spreadsheets on the morning the update was released, applied the update and then couldn’t open them!

    Reading between the lines, it looks like Office 2008 was previously set to automatically save new docs in an OOXML compatible format. Now Microsoft have REMOVED the ability to even open this format, presumably for reasons of internal politics relating to the ongoing ISO kerfuffle.

    All I can say is “what a f@cking liberty!”

  • I do love the smell of conspiracy theories in the morning. 🙂

    Joe, we did not remove the ability to open files in the new XML-based format. It’s a bug, pure and simple. We’re actively working on it now, and several of us here in the Macintosh Business Unit are monitoring various forums to get examples of files that users are unable to open. The time between Brent’s original tweet and my response to this blog post that was mentioned in his tweet was well under an hour, for example.

    Brent, I received your files and have forwarded them to the correct developer on the PowerPoint team. You mentioned above that you have other files that were affected. Word .docx files are very unlikely to be impacted by this issue, so if you have any examples of Word .docx files that are impacted, please send them to me. Again, any details about file lineage helps us determine where the issue was introduced and fix that underlying issue.

    Until we get an update fully tested and out the door, there are several workarounds on the help page that Brent linked to earlier. I realise that none of these workarounds are optimal, but the goal is to help you get up and working with your files again.

  • Nadyne,

    It’s great to hear that you guys are working on a fix. Can I politely suggest that this should be front and center on the Mactopia Help page?

    I’m happy to accept that it’s not a intentional if you say it’s not. Gotta say though that a bug which affects the ability to open most .___x files across the entire suite is *one hell of a bug*. No?

    As far as workarounds go, I just suck down Office ’07 from MSDN and look at it in a VM. It’s been a big time sink for me but needs must. I’m just as hitched to the Office wagon as everyone else.


  • Only a very small number of users are affected. Additionally, for those users who are experiencing the issue, not all of their files are impacted. It’s definitely not that everyone who updates to SP2 hits this issue — if that were the case, I don’t think that we would need to have it on our help page at all. The tech press, such as Macworld and C|Net, would take care of that for us.

    If you look at the traffic about SP2, the vast majority of it is positive, since we made launch time and performance improvements across the suite and brought path animation to PowerPoint. When you do find complaints, they’re mostly from people who have (ahem) borrowed product keys from less-than-trustworthy sources and are now finding that those borrowed product keys won’t work.

    • Nadyne – about the small number of users affected – I’ve forwarded my problem files to several other Office 2008 users who thought they weren’t affected, and every single one of them has been unable to open my files. If you have an Office 2008 Mac user who thinks they’re not affected and who can open my files, I’d love to hear about it. That would help me feel much better about this problem.

      Second, if you’re implying I’m using a borrowed product key, that is simply not the case.

  • I apologise! I obviously wasn’t clear at all in what I meant to say, so let me try this again. 🙂

    Most users will be able to open the files that they have created in Office 2008 or any other application that will write the new XML-based file format. That is, the vast majority of files do not have this issue. Further, if you are one of the people who have this issue, it’s likely that not all of your files are affected. For people who find that they have a lot of files that won’t open, they usually have something in common, such as using the same template. (This is likely what you’re seeing, since you’re using a corporate template. You can try to open any .pptx files that you have that weren’t created from a template, if you have any.) If you have a file that won’t open for you, it also won’t open for any user of Office 2008 SP2. The problem is present in the file itself, it’s not something specific to your installation of Office 2008 SP2.

    I also wasn’t trying to imply that you were using a product key that you shouldn’t. I only meant to say that the lion’s share of complaints that we have had about SP2 have been from users who were using an illegitimate product key. This issue with .pptx files that won’t open is completely separate from the product keys. I wasn’t trying to say that it was the source of your problem. The problem that you’re experiencing is an issue that we are actively working on fixing as soon as possible.

    I hope that I managed to be clearer this time. I very much wasn’t trying to malign you, and I really appreciate that you were so quick in sending me some of your affected files and their template. We know what the issue is with the file, and we can work around that issue. Our larger goal is to figure out how the issue with the file was introduced in the first place, so that we don’t have to work around anything. Having affected files and information about how they were created and edited along the way helps with that.

  • I have encountered several spreadsheets, created in Office 2007 on an XP system, that I cannot open.

    Each time, these are large sheets (10-20 tabs; lots of cells) that include links to other sheets (which are also xlsx sheets.)

    Having the creator resave the offending sheet as an .xlsb fixes it. Oddly enough, the .xlsx’s that are linked to open fine.

    This is 2008 w/SP2 on a new MacBook Pro w/4 gig Ram running 10.5.7.

  • Olga Figueiredo
    August 4, 2009 11:49 pm

    I had no problems with the Office Mac 2008 student version I got from the college campus in Nov. 2008 to install on my brand new MacBook. Now after 3 mths ago I had a problem with the Entourage after installing updates and my entire address book was erased. After recently finally updating my address book and everything seemed peachy, I got another update alert and clicked on it. And poof, my Entourage was once again gone, had to keep pressing the reset/relaunch button. Nothing! Went to the Apple store today and after 2hrs the techy sells me a new Office Mac 2008 software, installs it and everything seems fine. I come home, start up the Mac and again the Entourage is not cooperating, getting a message to relaunch/rest. I still can’t get into my emails and at this point I’m hoping not to lose my address and all the 200 + name/info I have stored.
    Has anyone out there experience similar problems??

  • Olga – Are you using Sync Services to synchronise your Entourage contacts with the Apple Address Book or MobileMe?

    I’m not sure why the Apple Store sold you another copy of Office 2008. Instead of going to the Genius Bar, you should instead call Microsoft tech support. We’ve got a team of people who only work on Office:Mac, so they can help you through any problems that you might have. With your purchase of Office 2008, you get two free calls to tech support. You can get the right telephone number for your region at

  • We released Office 2008 12.2.1 today, which addresses these issues in opening files. For more details about the 12.2.1 update, you can check out my blog post.

  • Before the 12.2.1 update (August 2009) I could save word documents with the .doc format – ie the old word format. After the update word crashes every time I do this. Are you guys going to sort this out or am I going to find an older version and reinstall it

    • Dianne – I’m not having that issue. Is it possible that it’s only happening with specific documents? For example, can you create a brand new blank docx file, save it, then try to save it as a doc file? If that works, then it’s a problem with your specific docx file, and you may want to open a case with MS. If that doesn’t work either, you might try to see if anyone else in your office can reproduce the issue.

  • Daniel Leavey
    August 15, 2009 6:48 pm

    Well, I’ve downloaded the 12.2.1 update from Mactopia twice and tried to install it over version 12.2.0, but can’t. Apparently the installer can’t find an acceptable copy of Office 2008 on my hard drive to update. Microsoft Office 2008 resides in my Applications folder, has never been renamed or tinkered with.
    Also, the AutoUpdater simply doesn’t work — either opened separately or invoked by Check For Updates under any of the program Help menus.
    Any suggestions?


  • I’ve install the patch. Now excel crashes even just starting and opening a blank spreadsheet document. It takes me to the report a crash screen and if I have try and recover checked, its an endless loop.

    Doesn’t seem to be related to any particular spreadsheet. Every xls and xlsx opens fine in OpenOffice and Numbers. Nothing opens in Excel SP2 with the patch.


  • I seemed to have solved my crashing issue (fingers crossed.)

    I moved the following files from ~/Library/Preferences/Microsoft to a temporary directory and the problem went away.

    -rw-r–r– 1 jrh jrh 0 Mar 1 2006 Office 11 First Run
    -rw-r–r– 1 jrh jrh 0 Feb 25 2006 Office 11TD First Run
    drwxr-xr-x 15 jrh jrh 510 Aug 9 11:15 Office 2008
    -rw-r–r– 1 jrh jrh 3962030 Jul 20 08:49 Office Font Cache (11)
    -rw-r–r–@ 1 jrh jrh 4544 Jun 25 06:54 Office Registration Cache 11

    It may have been a problem with the font cache. I’ve saved the files. If I get some spare time, I’ll put the font cache back in place and see if it trashes things.


  • I can’t open certain doc files that have been emailed to me. Not from just one person, this is a consistent problem. I have to go to my husband’s pc, download them, transfer them to a memory stick and move them over.

    I have tried to update to 12.2.1, it says it can’t find software, however when I check the version the computer thinks I have, it acknowledges an update install to the 12.2.1.

    This is a REAL PROBLEM. i am trying to work on something right now that is time sensitive and needed info from someone. They email and their doc files won’t open because office 2008 is protecting me from them. On top of that when they send me the same doc file converted to pdf my computer says teh files are corrupted, however, again, I can open them on my husband’s computer, just fine. This is not the first time it has happened and not from just the same person.

    This is totally unacceptable and I need help NOW!

    • Jane – I can sense your frustration, and I feel your pain. I was frustrated too when I ran into the bug. Have you called Microsoft for support? You can go to, pull up your product, put in your problem, and they’ll tell you if you’re eligible for free support. Here’s a shortcut:

      Don’t take this the wrong way, but you probably won’t get good help by leaving comments on personal blogs. I’m here to help, but I can’t do computer support for everybody. Your best bet to get support is always to start with the manufacturer.

      Deep breaths – you’ll get through this. Hang in there!

  • Office 2008 PowerPoint appears to have a lot of missing animations like autoreverse and counterclockwise spin and a lot of specialty animations like “buzz saw”, “neutron”. I hear that there is some work on a SDK to fix a lot of the missing custom animation issues. Is this true? If so, when will the fix be released. It just seems to be silly to have a great software that has been stripped of the goodies that Office 2007 has for pc’s


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