Microsoft joins other major developers on road to Apple Silicon

Microsoft is building a native version of Office for Apple Silicon as other major developers transition to Apple's new chips.

Apple, Mac, Apple Silicon, Microsoft, Office, macOS, Big Sur, Parallels

Apple has now introduced new Macs based on the M1 Apple Silicon SoC. Most major developers are already climbing aboard, including Microsoft, which has published a beta of Office 2019 optimized for Big Sur that also runs on the new chips.

Developers, developers, developers

Microsoft joins a growing roll call of professional app developers announcing support for Macs powered by the M1: Maxon (Cinebench, Cinema 4D), Adobe (Lightroom, Photoshop), Pixelmator, The Omni Group, Affinity and many others.

Microsoft’s Mac Office 2019 beta provides M1-compatible versions of the apps most enterprises use every day: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive.

It’s not a complete transition (yet).  Instead, Microsoft has tweaked its software to perform in tandem with Apple’s Rosetta 2 technology, which enables applications compiled for Intel processors to run happily on M1 Macs.

The company is developing native code.

A note about Rosetta on M1 Macs

Readers who used Rosetta during the transition from PowerPC to Intel chips should understand that this time around, Rosetta has been baked inside the hardware, as Apple controls the processor design. This means Rosetta today does a much better job of helping software run than Rosetta 1 did, as much of what's required has been developed in tandem with the processor.

Indeed, such is the performance of the M1 chip, some users may find their applications run faster on the new Macs than they do on Intel Macs, even with Rosetta translation.

Microsoft does warn that users will encounter a slight delay the first time they launch an Office app as the OS generates optimized code to make it run on Apple Silicon. This delay won’t take place the next time you open that app.

What Microsoft says

Microsoft states: “This translation layer is automatically enabled in macOS Big Sur and provides users with access to all features in Microsoft's apps including support for third-party add-ins. End-users and business customers can use existing methods to install and deploy Office.”

Office users may not have too long to wait until true support for M1 Macs is baked inside Microsoft’s productivity suite. Microsoft demonstrated Apple Silicon native builds of its apps at WWDC and is now working on moving Mac apps to universal binaries, so the same installer works on both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs

“In the future, we will natively support both Apple Silicon and Intel chipsets within the same executable,” the company said.

That’s (not) all, folks!

This is not all that’s going on in terms of support for Apple’s M1 Macs for Microsoft products. Parallels has confirmed it is working to introduce a native build of its eponymously named virtualization software for Macs. As demonstrated by Apple at WWDC, this will let users run Linux builds on Macs. Parallels says work on the solution continues, but it has nothing to announce concerning Windows support.

However, Parallels does point to a recent Microsoft note, which stated: “We are excited about the momentum we are seeing from app partners embracing Windows 10 on ARM.”

With Apple’s processor based on an ARM reference design, this bodes well (though it is no guarantee) that Microsoft may plan to introduce Windows that can be supported by Parallels on the new chip. That is important, given the M1 does not support Boot Camp.

Microsoft meanwhile continues work on its own cloud-based Windows solution which will let users run virtualized PCs remotely on any device. That’s in a context in which a great deal of activity is currently predicted in the PaaS (Platform as a Service) space, as enterprises seek out low-cost ways to provision remotely distributed, BYOD employees.

Apple is expected to introduce macOS Big Sur at some point today with the first M1 Apple Macs expected to begin reaching early adopters as soon as next week.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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