Microsoft Office update frustration

I’m curious. I recently asked about the Update nag button in Office. My question now is this: does anyone happen to know why I can’t apply Office updates to a 2021 Office suite on a Mac running Catalina until I upgrade the operating system. I suppose it’s really a question for Microsoft, but would anyone know offhand, because it’s really frustrating (especially in conjunction with the nag ribbon). I mean, what could Office possibly need that Catalina doesn’t provide?

Here’s the link to Microsoft’s page that explains (sort of).

Starting with the November 2022 update (16.67) macOS Big Sur 11 or later is required to receive updates to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote. If you continue with an older version of macOS, your Office apps will still work, but you’ll no longer receive any updates including security updates.

The October 2022 update (16.66) is the last build to support macOS Catalina 10.15.

What if I don’t update macOS to a supported version?

If you’re on an unsupported version of macOS, your Office apps will still work but you would no longer receive any updates including security updates. For example, if you’re on macOS Big Sur 11, but later you don’t update your macOS to a supported version when macOS Big Sur 11 is no longer supported, you won’t receive any updates of any kind.

It’s not necessarily something it needs that Catalina doesn’t provide, it could just be that Microsoft doesn’t want to spend the development and QA resources. Office is a big, complex suite, and removing a column from the testing matrix could easily save a lot of resources. While I don’t have any secret inside knowledge about Microsoft’s Office engineering group, I have worked in other engineering groups at other companies and we were always looking at the OS’s and browsers we supported and thus had to test on.


Yes, I saw that a few months ago. It annoyed me then, it continues to annoy me now. I was hoping there was a workaround, but apparently not.

Makes sense. Still, one would think they would provide security updates for a very recent version of their office suite, even if it’s not the latest version of the OS. Oh well, I’ll simply have to live with it until I buy some new hardware.

Running an application on an OS that is not receiving security updates or any other kind of support kind of defeats the purpose of keeping a system secure.

A few things to keep in mind here:

  • Microsoft’s XML-based document formats (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx, etc.) are very well designed for forward- and backward-compatibility. Documents created in a newer version of the app will load just fine into older versions of the app (of course, if the document uses a feature that doesn’t exist in the older version, then that may cause a problem).

  • Although security updates are important, most of the concerns are going to be with respect to detecting and blocking malicious content (usually in the form of embedded macros), and maybe also preventing it from loading from Internet sources (e.g. via remote links).

    If you only work with known-good documents (e.g. those you created) and don’t work with documents you’ve downloaded from the Internet, there shouldn’t be a practical problem with continuing to work with an older version of Office.

  • If you must work with newer files and can’t upgrade your Mac, consider using Microsoft’s Web-based Office apps. If you upload a document to OneDrive and visit the OneDrive web site, you can open the document in a web-based version of the app. This will always be the latest version of the web app (assuming you are running a compatible web browser). Note, however, that the capabilities are not identical, so this may or may not be a viable option for you.

    If you have a Microsoft 365 subscription, then you should have bundled OneDrive storage and access to the web apps (I believe 1TB is included for each user associated with a paid-up subscription). You don’t need to install the OneDrive software on your Mac to use OneDrive - you can transfer files via the web interface (which is how I use it).

  • There is a free tier for Office 365 as well. The free tier only includes 5GB of OneDrive storage, but this may be enough for casual use.


Seems to be exactly the same strategy as Apple has been implementing with macOS. And Microsoft isn’t the only one. TurboTax has been recently doing the same thing.

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Thanks for the detailed reply. I did mention that I upgraded Office when I updated my iMac to Catalina. So, I’m using a 2022 “business” suite, which is pretty recent. I don’t use One Drive (and didn’t install it) or Outlook, just the three primary apps. And, yes, most of my work is with purely text-based documents without macros. The Office 365 idea is interesting but I am very much against a subscription based model, especially for an office suite. But I appreciate the details you provided.

I know. It’s not as if it cannot be done, just that it’s too much of a bother for them. I understand the rationale but can’t really sympathize with it.

I can’t say that I blame Microsoft or any other developer for limiting updates to the current version of macOS and the previous two major versions. Every now and then, I find myself reading threads in developers’ forums, and it can be almost heartbreaking to see how difficult it can be for them to try to track down why something that works in Big Sur and Ventura doesn’t work in Monterey and so on, especially given how sparse Apple’s developer documentation can be.

I don’t mean to pick on Apple specifically, as all platforms seem to be on faster update cycles than they used to be on, which complicates maintaining apps dramatically.

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Agreed. Apple, MS, Adobe, et al. are employing a sort of cooperative, forced migration strategy that only gets worse as each company has moved farther into “rapid release” cycles. Look at Parallels and what version of Windows that Microsoft has “certified” (and when they cut off older Windows versions).

While, yes, some argument can be made for eliminating a column from the support matrix, this is a much lower-tier concern. Using version numbers as the argument for depreciation loses credibility when you are cramming new versions out so quickly they require months (or years) to track down newly introduced problems.

There is a complex problem when you stop supporting “older” software in combination with rapid release cycles and “upgrade or die” mentality.

One case that I recall from years ago is when Amazon discontinued a previous version of its Kindle reader app for OSX, leaving older system versions with no upgrade options. Apple mandated any new apps had to be created through their latest development kit or it would not be allowed on the Apps Store. Seems logical, as you have newer security protocols and other things that, in theory, make for a better experience overall.

The problem came when Amazon stopped allowing the older version that was already installed on numerous older Macs to keep working… used by people with severe disabilities. The result was a population of disabled people who were cut off from using the Kindle services because they could not upgrade their computer/OS.

Anyone who knows or has worked with people who have disabilities that require special equipment for daily life will understand what this means. They often cannot work a regular job, and have very limited income (if at all) and are often dependent on limited support from social and other community services.

It is seared into my mind as I had to try and help a number of people with disabilities and limited income when it happened.

I disagree that it’s “rapid release” mentality that’s causing all of this. It’s a lot simpler than that: It’s a manpower issue in both development and QA.

Backporting security patches is not easy, especially if the underlying code has changed. You need to make sure the patch code “fits” into the older release - that is, the code has access to the same internals in the OS that the original patch had and can be compiled with toolchain that exists for the old release. . If it doesn’t “fit” you’re re-engineering code to make it fit - assuming of course that the same problem existed on the old release. Then you have to QA the result.

All of this is time and money - not only to develop and test, but then get it out the door in a timely manner.

There’s a reason that some vendors charge extra for extended security support to cover old releases of software (like Oracle, Microsoft, etc).

I’m quite familiar with the efforts of the ClamXAV developer to keep his app running as far back as 10.6.8, simply because there is still demand from a number of users who feel the need for malware protection and have no other products available. In addition to the effort needed to get all appropriate SDKs involved in the coding process, there have been further delays as users report issues with different legacy macOSs that require additional updating work.

My own surprise stems from the fact that the version of MS Office I am using is one of the latest releases. So the version of Office is current. My question, I suppose, is what could possibly be the problem with the operating system environment (Catalina in my case) that would prevent a security patch from working. Because I assume that if this version of Office is supported, shouldn’t it’s security patches also be supported?

From personal experience working for a software vendor - some application vendors will make a policy decision that they will no longer support their applications on an operating system no longer supported by their vendor. That’s not only a cost/manpower consideration. There’s a technical justification that if they are uncover a bug in an unsupported OS, they can’t get assistance for it and the issue will never be fixed.
We’re all talking in hypothetical “what if this happens” but management tends thinks in those terms for assessing sustaining engineering costs.

Despite the valid reasons presented by others here, I agree with Robert that something feels amiss. Office Home & Student 2021 (or Home & Business) is in fact the current release available in the standalone version with no official news on the next release.

If you navigate through the overly-complicated “Resources” page at MS for the system requirements, you will find the following for Office 2021:

Computer and processor

Windows OS: 1.1 GHz or faster, 2-core

macOS: Intel or Apple Silicon (As supported by the three most recent versions of macOS.)

… and …

Operating system

Windows OS: Windows 10 or Windows 11

macOS: Office for Mac is supported on the three most recent versions of macOS. As new major versions of macOS are made generally available, Microsoft will drop support for the oldest version and support the newest and previous two versions of macOS. Product functionality and feature availability may vary on older systems. For the best experience, use the latest version of any operating system specified above.

Putting aside the fact that no macOS is “specified above” and you have to drill through multiple layers and clicks to find their macOS details, you will find virtually the same statement for Office 2019 through current Office 365. The main notable difference is that 2019 only lists Intel processor (no Apple Silicon).

Obviously, Microsoft is pushing their subscription-based 365 product heavily. The Office 2021 product/purchase pages even try to steer you away from the standalone version. But the fact remains they still release and sell it.

The key detail I find interesting is that Office 2019 and newer can be run on ANY flavor of Windows 10 or higher. No restrictions or caveats. On macOS they now simply say the “three most recent versions”. This echos Apple’s semi-official support matrix. I say semi-official because they were very vague about it until recently, causing some confusion until the community observed the pattern over time and eventually Apple reinforced this with various statements.

We can argue all we want about the difficulty and problems of supporting 2 or 3 versions back of macOS, but the pattern of behavior from the big players (MS, Adobe, Apple, etc.) seems to strongly imply they have no intention of supporting anything that is 3 years old, regardless of technical issues, if they exist.

Microsoft is not even bothering to list the current macOS systems by name or version number so they do not have to update their pages so frequently. What does this suggest to you?

(Please note, the Microsoft link below contains Office system requirements information, but does not work with TidBits preview engine and may not work correctly on all browsers or configurations. You may need to manually scroll down and expand the desired section to view information as this page appears to be a catch-all for every version of MS Office from 2013 forward.)
Microsoft 365 and Office Resources

This is a little long winded, it does relate to the present discussion in the last paragraph. Back in February I dealt with a very similar Micro$oft problem:

I have my old MBP from work with Mathematic and MatLab on it, running El Capitan. Upgrading to El Capitan, resulted in two dasy to get those to apps running again, mostly messing with .pref files, and I decided no more OS updates. Well Apple stopped supporting El Capitan, all of its internet certificates expired, and basically it could do little on the net. So I got a new drive, installed High Sierra, and used Migration Assistant to port everything over. Mathematica and MatLab ran just fine, it was my copy of Office that hicupped, wanting me to enter the Product Code. That version of Office was downloaded, and the Product Code I believed e-mailed, but the company e-mail server is now long gone, so recovering that e-mail impossible.

Sometime ago there was a small app that could read the product code of a running version of office, but for this copy of office it is now encrypted. The author of that app said the product code is in the same place, he just doesn’t know how to decrypt it.

I have spent the good part of two days talking to MS Engineers on getting my purchased copy of Office to run on High Sierra. I still have the El Capitan drive and can boot from it and run this version Office there, but that’s a little inconvenient, MS Engineers say “so, that’s nice”, and won’t help get the Product Code from that running version.

MS engineers tried to help me install a newer version of office (they put the key into my MS account, mainly cuz on a Monterey MBP I have the latest and greatest (cough) office and they could see that), but ‘we’ ran into the same problem as OP had for Office 2021 on Catalina, in verifying your ownership by calling the mother ship to verify the newly installed Office is valid, that process won’t work with an MacOS older than 2 versions than present, which leaves out High Sierra. The MS engineers blamed this all on Apple, “and I still don’t know why” (Todd Snider, Am a Alright Guy). I don’t understand why, an MS product calling home to the MS mothership to verify a purchase should depend on what version of MacOS it was on. To make amends, the MS engineers gave me a version of office to run under High Sierra where you had to type in the product code, not call the mothership, but this version is one or two versions OLDER than the one I had paid for that is on the El Capitan drive.