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Office 32-bit versus 64-bit

Those who’ve followed Windows OSes and applications for the past decade know that the 64-bit takeover is history. Circa Windows 7’s July 2009 release date, most new PCs were already 64-bit. Today, you must work to find and buy a 32-bit Windows PC running Windows 10. If you succeed, you’ve probably bought an el-cheapo tablet or super budget laptop with a 32 GB eMMC storage device, and no more than 2 GB of RAM. Otherwise the modern Windows world is entirely 64-bit. Why, then is the default for Microsoft Office installation still 32-bit? Therein lies an interesting tale, as I explore Office 32-bit versus 64-bit versions.

Office 32-bit versus 64-bit

In a 64-bit world, why does Office still default to the 32-bit version?

What’s the Difference? Office 32-bit versus 64-bit…

Here’s a quote from the MS Support site’s “Choose between the 64-bit or 32-bit version of Office” (applies to Office 2016, Office for business, Office 365 Admin, Office 365 Small Business, and so forth):

The 32-bit version of Office is automatically installed unless you select the 64-bit version at the beginning of the installation process. This article explains the reasons to choose either the 64-bit or 32-bit version of Office on a PC.

In fact, you have to seek out and run the version of setup named setup64.exe to force Windows to install the 64-bit version of Office. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with the 32-bit version. With that bit of administrivia in mind, here is what might impel someone to skip the default and force 64-bit installation instead (quoted verbatim from the afore-cited Support article):

  • You’re working with large data sets, like enterprise-scale Excel workbooks with complex calculations, many pivot tables, data connections to external databases, Power Pivot, 3D Map, Power View, or Get & Transform. The 64-bit version of Office may perform better in these cases. See, Excel specifications and limits, Data Model specification and limits, and Memory usage in the 32-bit edition of Excel.
  • You’re working with extremely large pictures, videos, or animations in PowerPoint. The 64-bit version of Office may be better suited to handle these complex slide decks.
  • You’re working with files over 2 GB in Project, especially if the project has many sub-projects.
  • You’re developing in-house Office solutions like add-ins or document-level customization. Using the 64-bit version of Office lets you deliver a 64-bit version of those solutions as well as a 32-bit version. In-house Office solution developers should have access to the 64-bit Office 2016 for testing and updating these solutions.

Benefits of Staying 32-bit

MS takes the 32-bit default route because it provides best overall backward compatibility. Thus, it retains the ability to work with 32-COM add-ins or controls. This can be essential when, as sometimes happens, no 64-bit alternatives are available. This also ensures continued support for older Visual Basic, and calls to 32-bit MAPI applications or OLE servers and objects. Ditto for legacy SharePoint, Access, Equation Editor, Word Add-in Libraries, and moire. In business environments where add-ons or macros are used, this keeps things working.

Long-time TenForums poster Bree explains this succinctly and cogently in a recent post (#15). He observes: “There are more disadvantages to the 64-bit versions than advantages.” I have only one (test) system running Office 64-bit myself, and I can’t tell any difference between the two versions whatsoever. That’s why I’m sticking with the default 32-bit install. In the absence of a compelling reason to go 64-bit yourself, you may also do likewise.

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