Archive for the 'Fixing things' Category

Office 2008: How to change the CD key

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Administrators, you already know the reasons you might need to change the product key on an Office installation, so I won’t need to explain or justify them here. Unfortunately, questions about this procedure are met with a terse response from Microsoft, blog posts about the procedure are way out of date, and the responses you’ll find in forum threads manage to be unhelpful, despite their unspoken self-righteous condemnation of your presumed piracy.

Making matters worse, the procedure offered by Microsoft is a pack of lies that will guide you to total removal of Office on your system; at least, Microsoft removed in 2008 the function they describe for Office 2004. And on top of that, reinstalling Office after following this or any other procedure still won’t clear the registration information.

To change the serial number, product key, CD key, license key, or whatever you want to call the string of characters required to activate a Microsoft product on an existing installation of Office 2008 for Mac, follow these simple steps:

  1. Quit all open Office applications to prevent them from clobbering your work
  2. Delete the file /Applications/Microsoft Office 2008/Office/OfficePID.plist
  3. Delete the file ~/Library/Preferences/Microsoft/Office 2008/Microsoft Office 2008 Settings.plist
  4. Launch one of the Office applications to go through the Setup Assistant and enter the new license key


  • Removal of both these files is important, as they appear to back each other up and will “repair” each other when you launch Office.
  • There’s no need to disconnect the network, as suggested in Microsoft’s note.
  • You can modify OfficePID.plist directly to change the registered name, but the serial number is not stored here, so …good idea, but no dice. Only the Setup Assistant can deal with a new license key.
  • You may want to delete the “Microsoft Office 2008 Settings.plist” file from the home directory of every user on the system, to prevent one of them logging in and repairing the OfficePID.plist file with stale information. This happened to me once, logging in with my username and then switching to another user, but I couldn’t make it happen again, so I can’t tell exactly what happened.

I’m fairly annoyed that the “Remove Office” tool described in Microsoft’s technote doesn’t behave as described. Holding down the Option key never actually reveals any “Remove License Information Only” button in the tool that comes with 2008. Another fine oversight.

Hopefully this will be the worst snag in your deployment of Office 2008. Unfortunately, however, I have a feeling I have a few more things along these lines yet to post. Good luck.

Fix #NAME and #N/A errors in Excel for Mac

Friday, September 28th, 2007

After months of quietly defending the Mac against relentless condemnation for the way Excel 2004 mangles formulae and references in spreadsheets created on Windows systems, I discovered today a three-click solution for a whole swath of problems: the “Analysis ToolPak” Add-in for Excel.

The problems manifest as #NAME or #N/A appearing all across your delicate sheets and workbooks when you alter a cell containing a date used in a formula. I can find no reasonable explanation for this, but the plugin apparently makes Excel calculate things the same as it does in Windows. Why it doesn’t just do this already, I can only speculate angrily.

Installing the plugin to fix things is simple:

  1. In Excel, select “Add-ins…” from the “Tools” menu.
  2. Check the box next to “Analysis ToolPak”
  3. Click “OK”

The plugin installs automatically and takes effect immediately. Any open spreadsheets will be re-calculated, but I would recommend closing and re-opening any affected spreadsheets for the sake of consistency.

Here’s looking forward to Office 2008, the elimination of all compatibility issues between the platforms, and the subsequent series of blog posts about dealing with the remaining compatibility issues between the platforms.

Enable the Start menu in VMWare Fusion

Friday, August 10th, 2007

I find the recently-released VMWare Fusion 1.0 to be better, faster, and more Mac-like, feature-for-feature, than Parallels. By default, however, its Unity mode goes a bit too far in its seamless Mac integration by hiding the Start bar entirely, in the hope that you’ll use the admittedly more Mac-style “Applications” menu VMWare provides. Fortunately, revealing the Start bar, your Windows windows, and your system tray again is a simple tweak to the VMWare Tools config file.

To enable the Start menu and Taskbar in a VMWare guest:

  1. With Windows running, switch to Single Window or Full Screen mode
  2. Open C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\VMWare\VMWare Tools\tools.conf in Notepad
  3. Add the following line at the end of the file:
    unity.showTaskbar = "true"
  4. Save and close tools.conf

The toolbar will be visible when you next enter Unity mode. Brilliant!

With this tweak, VMWare’s Unity mode is superior to Coherence mode in Parallels. The Windows windows in Unity do the right thing when you activate Exposé, for example. They also have nice shadows, like other Mac windows, and they are truly interleaved with Mac windows, not grouped together in a giant invisible window like in Parallels.

Overall, I also find VMWare to be faster than Parallels, not just in running Windows, but in launching, exiting, pausing and resuming the guest OS. It also seems to be less demanding of OS X resources than Parallels. Plus, the UI is much simpler and smoother, using real Aqua controls and adhering to Apple HIG.

I only wish VMWare would release for Mac the tools they have for Windows that can convert from Parallels VMs to VMWare VMs. Give ‘em time, I suppose.

Mount external volumes at startup

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

By default, Mac OS X will not mount external Firewire or USB drives until someone logs in. I actually appreciate this, because it improves the system’s security against rogue drives displacing trusted volumes, but it’s problematic when you want a server to share all available drives when starting up unattended.

To change the default behavior so that all available drives are mounted at system startup, you can tweak a hidden preference in the disk mounter:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/autodiskmount AutomountDisksWithoutUserLogin -bool true

To revert to the default behavior, issue the same command with ‘false’ instead of ‘true’.