Managing Office 2008

Office2008If you are thinking about deploying Microsoft Office 2008 in your environment, there are some preferences you should consider managing.

Microsoft has provided a high-level overview here. But it’s short on details. Here’s a few…

Many of the Office 2008 applications now use plist files to store their preferences. (A major exception is Entourage, which still stores a lots of its preferences in the monolithic Entourage Database.) Plist files mean we can use Workgroup Manager/MCX to manage many preferences.

Here’s what I wanted to manage:

  1. Set Microsoft AutoUpdate to check only manually.
  2. Turn off the Office Setup Assistant.
  3. Set the default save format for Word, Excel and PowerPoint to the Office 97-2004 format (as opposed to the new XML-based formats

I started by opening each application and making the preference changes I wanted, then quit each app in turn. Next, I opened Workgroup Manager, created a new ComputerGroup called “Office2008” (you may choose to do this at a workgroup level instead, and under Tiger Server that’s probably the best option). I clicked the Preferences icon, and then the Details tab.

I then clicked the + button and imported the following plists:


You can’t import them all at once; you need to import them one-by-one. As you import each one, you are given the choice of importing the preferences as “Once”, “Often”, or “Always”.
Apple warns that “Always” may not work with third-party applications, and that “Often” is often the better choice. I wanted users to be able to change the default save format, so I imported the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint preferences as “Once”; the other two I imported as “Often”, which causes MCX to re-apply the desired preferences at each login.

When I was done importing, it looked like this:

WGM Office 2008 preferences

Unfortunately, when you import preferences this way – you get everything that’s currently in the plist file. You’ll need to delete everything except the keys you’re interested in.

Here are the Word prefs after deleting everything except the default save format key:

Word 2008 managed prefs

And the preferences for Microsoft AutoUpdate:

Microsoft AutoUpdate preferences

The other keys you are looking for:
2008\Default Save\Default Format
State: once
Value: 57
2008\Default Save\Default Save\Default Format
Value: Microsoft PowerPoint 98 Presentation
State: once
Value: 1
State: often

What do you do if you can’t use MCX? You could write a script that runs at login (perhaps using this mechanism) for each user, and it could use the defaults command to set the preferences:

defaults write HowToCheck "Manual"

defaults write "2008\\FirstRun\\SetupAssistCompleted" -int 1

defaults write "2008\\Default Save\\Default Format" "Doc97"

defaults write "2008\\Default Save\\Default Format" -int 57

defaults write "2008\\Default Save\\Default Save\\Default Format" "Microsoft PowerPoint 98 Presentation"

(I haven’t actually tested the defaults method, but it should work…)

Managing Office 2008

54 thoughts on “Managing Office 2008

  1. Dan says:

    What if I do this:

    1 Open the apps and make the changes as needed.
    2 Open Property List Editor and remove all the unwanted options and keys
    3 Import into WGM.

    That way I have a backup copy of the edited custom plist files that I can refer to later if needed.

    Will that work?

    PS: Too bad about Entourage – thats the app I Wnna tweak the most!

  2. Dan says:

    Hmmm, Doesnt seem to work for me…

    The and the DO work. They show up in System Profiler and they are working as expected. Theya re both set to “often”

    The Excel, Word and PowerPoint files dont work. They are in WGM properly and loook good from an admin perspective, but the managed clients never get them. Even in System Profiler, the “Managed CLient” tab doesn’t show them at all. These 3 are set to “Once”. But never show up, even on brand new account profiles.

    I verified the test computers are in the proper OD groups, etc (Im using computer policies not group policies)

  3. Dan says:

    OK, did more tseting, this time I removed MCX from the scenario and did a localized test on an isolated workstation running 10.5.2.

    1) I set up a new user and configured the 3 Office 2008 apps as needed per your settings.
    2) Then I logged in as root and copied the 3 user prefs into the /sys/Lib/User Template/… folder.
    3) Then I logged in as a different new user. Then I launched the apps…

    The PPT and Excel prefs worked as expected, but Word 08 does NOT work. It defaulted back to the newer docx format for the default file format.

    After more testing, I realized that Words file format default is per- file based and not global. Also, Im not sure the “Doc97” is the correct string for the plist key.

  4. Dan:

    I don’t know what to tell you other than the ever-dreaded “works for me”…

    I just tested again, creating a new user on one of my Leopard machines, and all Office 2008 document save defaults were set as I expected.

    Do remember that MCX “once” settings will only appear in System Profiler’s Managed Client section on the first login after they’ve been set – in other words, they will appear only “once”.

  5. Dan says:

    I just noticed that after doing some testing on a 10.5.2 managed Mac, that when a (managed mobile) account is removed from the Mac via the Accounts pref pane, that the MCX items related to that user (stored in /Library/Managed Preferences/) are not removed along with the account. Can youconfirm that this is “normal behavior”? The test Mac in question was bound to both AD and OD.

    THis may have something to do with my results, since I often add and remove the same account for testing purposes. I wasnt aware that the MCX prefs lingered on the local file system (even after a reboot, etc)



  6. Eric says:


    I’ve seen this too. I’ve got to believe its a bug. In my case I actually unbound the machine from the OD server but all my accounts were still managed. I had to go into /private/var/db/dslocal/nodes/Default/users and manually remove the mcxflags key and mcxsettings key entries and their associated arrays from the user I was testing with. Once those entries were removed I was fully unmanaged again.

  7. Jay says:

    Hi Greg,
    Do you know if you can set Entourage as your default mail app via MCX prefs.
    I thought sending after setting Entourage as default would do the trick but unfortunately not. I’m trying to get rid of Entourage asking to be my default on first launch as it interferes with an Applescript I’ve built to set up mail accounts.

  8. JeremyD says:

    @ GregN: thanks for the info. Like you said, you provide more detail than Microsoft’s MacBU.

    I culled some Office 2008 plist key/pairs for a colleague who does not currently have OD/MCX setup. He was mainly concerned with setting the Office 97-2004 Compatibility attribute per Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

    I verified that the specific attributes could be set via defaults method. He could then run as Unix task from ARD (he’s not a heavy scripter).

    Then he asked if the same could done to require the “Add/Append Extension” option in all Save/As dialogs. This one kinda stumped me–at least for Word.

    Looks like it’s a moot issue for PowerPoint, because with/out .ppt/.pptx, Office 2003/2007 for Windows “knows” to open it in PowerPoint. Incidentally, the .ppt/.pptx extension is only hidden from Finder; from the Terminal you can still see the extensions. But, I digress…

    This setting can be set for Excel like so (all on one line, of course)…

    defaults write “2008\Microsoft Excel\AppendDOSExtension” 1

    The problem for Word 2008 is that no obvious plist key/pair is present. Unless it’s buried within the first two keys for “2008\Data\Settings” or “2008\Data\Toolbars”. The data contents of their data values are too obscured to decipher.

    Can you either confirm and/or take a closer look?

    Thanks very muchly!

  9. Dustin says:

    We just got office 2008.

    How do you turn off the Office Setup Assistant? Does this make it never open for all network users?


  10. The original article tells you how to disable the run of Office Setup Assistant:
    Value: 1
    State: often

    And yes, this causes it to not open/run for all network users.

      1. JeremyD says:

        @ Liz – The beginning of this article discusses the two of the three methods.

        The first assumes that you’re running Mac OS X/Open Directory master to manage MCX settings. That’s where Greg mentions “Work Group”.

        The second method is a sort of ad-hoc method of local MCX. GregN wrote an article for MacTech magazine about this. You can get a snippet of it here…

        This method requires is kinda “hands-on”, but can save you some cash.

        Another method would be via either SSH or ARD. In ARD you could either run as UNIX (using the defaults method also mentioned in this original aricle). Or you could ssh into user’s Macs, then run the same defaults commands.

  11. JeremyD says:

    @ GregN: any chance to review or think about my previous post re: Add/Appending extension for Word?


    BTW: I always read your articles for MacTech mag–good stuff!

  12. I see no option in the GUI preferences for Word to add/append the extension in Word, so unless there is an undocumented preferences setting, it probably can’t be done.

      1. Tim:
        No idea why you’d get a corrupt database error. Word, Excel, and PPT docs aren’t databases! Any more detail you’d care to share? Does the behavior persist if you turn off the managed prefs? Are you managing once or often?

        The option to append the extension is in the Save/Save As dialog boxes, but there’s no option to make this the default in any _preferences_ dialog, which is what is needed if you want to manage it. If Word doesn’t save this as a preference, there’s no preference to manage.

      2. JeremyD says:

        @ GregN:
        It’s probably a MacBU inconsistency-thing. Word appears to have this preference, but obfuscates it from conventional access.

        Both Excel and Word have a “Append file extension” checkbox in Save dialogs. However, Word’s corresponding plist ( either doesn’t expose this attribute to non-GUI access or it obscures it via a hexadecimal value.

        If you look at (via Propery List, you see the top key/value pair, called “2008\Data\Settings”, has an incredibly long hexadecimal value. This is the most-likely place Word may save the “Append file extension” attribute.

  13. Tim M says:

    Thanks for the posting. I tried you suggestions and for the most part they worked like you said. But now when a network user opens Word, Excel, PPT I get a corrupt database error. Has anyone gotten anything like this also?

    1. Shane Palmer says:

      @ Tim:
      Word, Excel and PPT all store User Information in the Entourage database even if you don’t use Entourage. While in Word preferences, click on User Information and any info listed there is actually stored in ~/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Office 2008 Identities/MainIdentityORYourEntourageProfileName/Database. If you click on the More… button it will actually open up an Entourage style Address Book window for your User Information. If your users use Entourage you may want to try repairing the database but if they don’t use Entourage you could try deleting the database file and recreating the settings in Word.

      1. Tim,

        I was getting the same error message as you. My fix was to add the following files to Workgroup Manager’s “Detail” section.

        Don’t ask me why but Office seems to need these files to verify the integrity of the database.

        Hope it helps.


  14. Turner says:

    I accidentally trashed my office 2008 setup assistant plist file. I did some updates nad now can’t open any programs as the preference to input porduct key window will not show up.

    I had copied the info in text edit but I don’t know how to actually re-import it back into my system. I’m not sure what I have to name the file and where it would go.

    Please help this n00b mac user get back to work.

  15. nate says:

    bringing this back from the dead…

    i’m managing the setup assistant key at a client who’s using managed portable homes for all users. they also have individually licensed copies of office 2008.

    managing the first run key has no effect, as any new local, network, or portable user gets prompted to enter the serial number upon first launch of office apps. it doesn’t ask again, but i obviously don’t want users to have to keep entering serials, thus introducing potential for dupes across machines.

    with the key managed via mcx, users receive the proper value. once setup assistant launches, it reverts to 0. the ~/Preferences/Microsoft/Office 2008/Microsoft Office 2008 Settings.plist file also doesn’t exist until the assistant completes. since serials are unique here, i can’t see an easy way to manage that plist.

    can you think of any way to resolve this?

  16. Jason says:

    First, thanks for the great, really helpful site. Second, our issue with this…

    We our using these and a number of other MCX preferences for Office 2008 successfully on new clients running OS 10.6.2 with servers on 10.5.8.

    Given that success, we wanted to go ahead and install Office 2008 on Intel Core Solo Mac Minis that are running OS 10.4.11. We knew that we would get some significant performance and management benefits from moving these machines from Office 2004 to 2008. We deployed the install via ARD as per the instructions on the MS:Mac website so as not to compromise security. We have preferences set in WGM exactly the same as they are for the 10.6 iMacs. ( 2008\FirstRun\SetupAssistCompleted; Value: 1; Integer; State: often)

    >>>When you log in as a user with his or her network home account and launch Word, Excel, or PowerPoint for the first time, the Setup Assistant still opens. Why?

    The only differences between the labs that are working and those that aren’t are:
    – OS (10.4 vs. 10.6)
    – Installation Method (Package install deployed via ARD in 10.4 vs. Installed through image deployment in 10.6)
    – Processor (Intel Core Solo-10.4 vs. Intel Core 2 Duo-10.6)
    – RAM (512 MB-10.4 vs. 2 GB-10.6)

    Any help would be greatly, greatly appreciated!

    Thank you…

  17. Hi Greg,

    Fantastic blog. I’ve also really appreciated your slides on MCX from MacWorld and the ‘Network Home Directories: One Implementation’ presentation.

    I have an Entourage 2008 related question for you, and other readers. We recently implemented password aging on our predominantly Active Directory network.

    Entourage on Mac OS X gives a warning dialogue that’s worded “Your [exchange account name] password will expire in 10 days. Contact your Exchange administrator to change it”. Of course, the password being referred to here is the user’s Active Directory kerberized account password, so the user doesn’t need to contact the Exchange administrator about it at all, just to change his/her main account password as per usual at or before the date of password expiry.

    What we ideally would like to do would be to remove that text “Contact your Exchange administrator to change it”, but we don’t know if this is held somewhere in Exchange or hard coded into Entourage itself.

    I’ve called Microsoft tech support about this, but couldn’t get very far since it doesn’t fall in a neat Exchange vs Entourage area. If you or anyone else in a heterogenous network environment has seen this and has any suggestions, I’d be most grateful.

    Many thanks

  18. “What we ideally would like to do would be to remove that text “Contact your Exchange administrator to change it”, but we don’t know if this is held somewhere in Exchange or hard coded into Entourage itself.”

    I would imagine that is hard-coded in Entourage itself and can’t easily be changed unless you want to do some resource hacking.


  19. Nate says:

    I figured out the elusive issue with Office 2008 insisting upon running Setup Assistant even though the key mentioned above it set (SetupAssistCompleted). If you add the following key pair to the file, it will work:


    I’m not sure when they started adding this key, but if you manage this key as well, it should do the trick.

    1. The key I manage is NOT SetupAssistCompleted, it’s:

      Value: 1
      State: often

      Literally “2008\FirstRun\SetupAssistCompleted”.
      Nate, are you really seeing a key called “2008FirstRunSetupAssistCompleted”?

    2. Gary says:

      I am having this issue as well. Since we moved to 10.6 with Office 2008. Changing the as you mentioned has not helped at all.

      Any other suggestions?

      Newly imaged 10.6 machine, with fresh install of office 2008 and applied mcx preferences as described above.


      1. Are you also deploying a properly configured /Applications/Microsoft Office 2008/Office/OfficePID.plist file? MCX can’t help you with that — you’ll have to do that some other way. Office 2011 doesn’t need that, fortunately.


      2. Gary says:

        That seems to be it. Can I just copy one from a working machine and distribute it or does it need to be edited. There is a bunch in there that doesn’t really describe what it does.


  20. JohnW says:

    Hi Greg,

    Thanks a ton for this — was exactly what I was looking for.

    One other thing that I can’t seem to find a fix for: On quit, all my MCX-managed copies of Word are complaining about being unable to save the Normal.dotm file, due to access/permission problems. But I can’t even figure out *where* it’s trying to save it, so that I can troubleshoot. Is there a pref key that sets its location?


    1. JohnW says:

      Following up on this: I think I’ve determined that it’s trying to save the Normal.dotm file in the Application Support folder of my admin account, as opposed to the one that belongs to the logged in user; clearly it has hard-coded a path in there somewhere, but I can’t find it for the life of me. Any thoughts?


    2. JohnW says:

      Okay, I sort of solved the issue, but without gaining any particular insight into the details…

      Looks like Word is grabbing its User Templates location from its support files in the home directory of whichever user you installed the app with. Somehow the app bundle gets hard-coded with this info when you do the install, which is a hundred kinds of stupid.

      Appears you can override it, though, by deleting *all* of the various Microsoft folders from all your clients — anything MS related that’s in your /Users/admin home dir, or in /Library, and then when your users launch Word, it’ll fall back to using their *own* homes for templates, which is what we want.

      (It’s probably only *one* of those folders that really needs to go, but I don’t have the time or inclination to test each one separately; I just killed them all, and it seems to have done the trick. 🙂

      1. I’m not seeing the behavior you describe; did you repackage Office 2008 before installing it? If so, perhaps the repackaging captured files that are causing this behavior…

  21. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my
    comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

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