Office For Mac 2011: Re-Activation Heck, Part II

The new activation requirement for Microsoft Office for the Mac means your software might stop working if you upgrade your computer. And that can lead to hours of lost productivity.

Jake Widman, Contributor

December 20, 2010

3 Min Read

The new activation requirement for Microsoft Office for the Mac means your software might stop working if you upgrade your computer. And that can lead to hours of lost productivity.In part I of this story, I explained how I had a perfectly legal, properly working copy of Microsoft Office 2011 on my MacBook. Properly working, that is, until I replaced the Mac's hard disk. Suddenly the software thought I was trying to run it on a new computer and refused to start up. The first attempt to solve the problem, detailed in part I, resulted in a suggestion to reinstall the software. That proved fruitless, so the next day, I called tech support back to try again.

This time I reached a nice woman named Shelley who did a great job of reading the script she'd been handed, though since she acknowledged that she used neither a Mac nor Office, I wasn't sure how much she understood. Her main point, though, seemed sound: she said I needed to thoroughly uninstall the old version before I reinstalled it. That was a step that Steve had neglected to mention the previous day.

So Shelley walked me through the process of tearing out Microsoft Office root and branch, telling me which files to delete files /home/Applications, from /home/Library/Application Support and /home/Preferences, from /Library/Application Support and /Library/Preferences, and even from private/var/db/receipts, which I could only get to by typing the path into the Finder's Go To Folder command. (You'd be amazed at how many files there are on your system.) I was able to get her to confirm that I didn't have to delete my Office 2008 Preferences folder, thank goodness -- I didn't want to have to re-create all of those again.

Now, with all vestiges of the previous installation wiped away, reinstalling should give me a fresh start, right? Wrong. When I opened Word, I did get an option that wasn't there before -- to use it as a demo for a couple of weeks -- but entering my product key (verified to be legal, remember) still produced the error message that I'd already activated the software once.

At this point, Shelley tranferred me to the Activation Department, where I spoke with Suntosh. He had me read him the 54-digit "installation ID" number I'd tried entering the day before, and asked me that trick question about how many computers I'd installed the software on. I explained how I'd installed it on another hard disk but it was really the same computer, and he either accepted my explanation or decided to let it go. In any case, he read me a new 54-digit number to enter. I did, the activation activated, and I was back in business.

So all told, I spent about two and a half hours on the phone with Microsoft over two days trying to reactivate software I'd already installed and activated once. Needless to say, this isn't the kind of experience Mac owners are used to. It's easy to understand Microsoft's motivation, though one has to wonder if paying four people to talk me through this process is really cost-effective. But any Mac-based small business is in for an unpleasant surprise if they expect transferring their Office licenses from one Mac to a new one to be a smooth process. This is the kind of issue that basing your business on a Mac is supposed to spare you from. Speaking as a Mac-based small business myself, I spent some of the time between phone calls making sure my copies of NeoOffice and Lotus Symphony were up to date, and now I'm looking forward to iWork '11 even more than I was before.

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