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Folderizing Office 2016

In case you missed it, Microsoft just released Office 2016 for Mac. Well, released if you’re an Office 365 customer. I am, so I downloaded the release version today. I’d been playing with the betas, and one thing bugged me: the installer wouldn’t let you pick an install folder.

Sadly, the same holds true for the release version; after installation, my Applications folder was the mess as shown in the image at right. Ugh.

My Applications folder resides on my boot SSD, and I like to keep it tiny and tidy. Tiny in the sense that only my most-used apps reside here; others are on my RAID. Tidy in the sense that I don’t like looking at long lists of apps that all start with the same word, e.g. Microsoft. So things like Office go into a folder, helping at least the tidy side.

Eric Schwiebert of Microsoft tweeted an explanation for this user-unfriendly behavior:

While I understand the rationale, I don’t agree with it. Office isn’t yet in the App Store, and even if it were, that’s not where I got it from. So why are you affecting my options for a version that neither exists nor that I even have? In any event, I wanted Office 2016 in a folder, so I set out to find a way to do that.

After installation, you can manually move the files to a folder, and they’ll run just fine. I did this throughout the beta. However, when Office updates come out, things get weird. The update will probably work, but it will install a new copy of each updated app at the root of /Applications. You’ll then have to manually move these to your chosen location, overwriting the older original version. You then have to delete the updated app from the top level of /Applications. And basically, that’s a pain for a five-app bundle that gets a fair number of updates.

I wanted a way to have my folderized structure, but not have any issues with updates. Someone suggested symbolic links, which probably would have worked, but I thought I’d try straight aliases first. So here’s what I did…

I created my new Microsoft Office 2016 folder in Finder. Then I used the Finder’s File > Make Alias command to create an alias to each of the five Office applications. I moved these aliases into the folder. The next step required both Terminal and root privileges, as the Office apps are installed with administrative restrictions.

In Terminal, I did the following to make the original files invisible:

The first time you use sudo, you’ll be prompted for your admin password. What these commands do is set the invisible bit on each file, so they’ll no longer show up in Finder. They do show up in Terminal, and you can make them visible again in Finder by repeating the above commands, but replace the V with v.

So now I have a setup with the originals sitting exactly where Microsoft installed them—so updates should work. But the files are invisible, so I don’t have to look at them. And the aliases have no problem launching an invisible file, so I can use my folderized structure, and I assume everything will be fine come update time. (I’ll obviously update this post if that’s not true…but I can’t test until Microsoft ships an Office update.)

2 Comments

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  1. Could you have tweaked the Office 2016 BOM in /Library/Receipts to relocate the .app files elsewhere in a way that would have survived updates?

  2. They’re now in /var/db/receipts … and I’m not sure mucking with the BOM file would be a good idea. I wanted to come up with something that left Microsoft’s stuff as stock as possible. (Related: The .bom file now appears to be binary; not sure that’s always been the case, but I don’t know how I’d edit it now.)

    -rob.

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