Microsoft Word Users Are Incensed Over Apple’s New Catalina OS

Catalina won't support 32-bit apps.
Catalina won’t support 32-bit apps.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Apple rolled out its new operating system, Catalina, to desktop Macs this week, and users who have upgraded have had to make a few adjustments. The revamped OS introduces a host of features, such as the Apple Arcade game-streaming service and revamped podcast, TV, and music apps. However, users are reporting an unwelcome surprise: Microsoft Word 2011 isn’t compatible with Catalina.

Installing Catalina is a sweeping upgrade because the new operating system will no longer support apps designed to run on the 32-bit processors that most computers had in the 1990s and early 2000s. In basic terms, 32-bit processors are able to access 4 GB of memory to run the calculations needed to complete a task. The amount of memory a processor can access impacts the system’s speed. Apple began using 64-bit processors, which can theoretically access 16 EIB of memory, in the early 2000s and has been trying to phase out 32-bit apps for the last 10 years. Mac operating systems have been 64-bit since the release of Snow Leopard in 2009. When Apple released High Sierra in 2017, the company started alerting users that it would soon end support for 32-bit apps with pop-up messages.

With the release of Catalina, Apple is now forcing any straggling users to finally switch over to using 64-bit apps. Those who have been clinging onto the 32-bit Microsoft Word 2011 are now out of luck, and now have to purchase Microsoft Word 2016 or Microsoft Word 2019. There are also a number of other 32-bit apps that people won’t able to use either, like older versions of Photoshop or Excel. Yet users seem particularly incensed about Word, perhaps because for many of us it’s so integral to daily life.

Before you upgrade to Catalina, you should check to see whether there are any 32-bit apps on your system. To do this, click on the Apple icon on the upper left corner of your screen and select “About This Mac” from the dropdown menu. Once you see the System Information window, click on “System Report.” Then, find “Legacy Software” on the menu to the left, and you’ll find a list of your 32-bit apps.

If you want to keep using those apps, it might be worth finding newer, 64-bit versions. In some cases, as with Word, you’ll have to buy the updated product. However, newer versions may also be free on the manufacturer’s website or you can just find alternatives – for example, you might find Google Docs to be an adequate substitute for Word. If you for some reason need to keep using 32-bit apps, you can purchase software that will allow you to continue using older Mac operating systems alongside Catalina. PCMag recommends downloading Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion, which are programs that allow users to set up a window that essentially serves as a parallel desktop. You can install previous Mac, or even Windows, operating systems on that second desktop to run 32-bit apps. You probably wouldn’t want to go through all this trouble just to keep using Microsoft Word 2011, but it’s a viable workaround if you really insist.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.