Sunday, February 6, 2011

Office Click-to-Run

It's been a long time since I've been called on to install an Office product that was not volume-licensed, so I was taken by surprise during a recent task to install Office 2010 on a laptop. We're not even talking about upgrading a trial version to a purchased version, which I have done and comes with its own set of trials and tribulations. This was simple case of uninstall Office 2007 (which was also not a legal copy), purchase and download Office 2010 Home and Business, install it. Voila. No muss, no fuss. Except there was a healthy amount of both muss and fuss.

I should have known something was off when the icon for the installer, downloaded to the desktop, looked very different than the standard executable. I clicked it and started the install process, and was promptly met with a dialogue box that informed me that I could start using Office now and it would continue downloading content in the background. I assumed it was calling home and getting updates, which seemed like a nice little feature (and there was no option to cancel anyway), so I let it go. It automatically opened PowerPoint to give me some information about Office 2010. I closed it, and gave it back to the user to let it finish.

Later the user asked me to set up their email profile, so I launched Outlook to do so. It had actually kept all of the previous Outlook configurations so there was really no need to set up anything. I entered the user's password, and everything seemed kosher except that Outlook crashed 2 minutes later. From that point on all attempts to launch Outlook failed. The message I got was simply that Outlook failed to launch properly. No further information was logged in the Application Logs, no messages from the application itself with suggested fixes or any information about what caused the crash. Nothing.I tried launching it in Safe Mode to see if there was a problem with an add-on or plugin. Outlook /safe didn't work as it could not find an executable called outlook.exe. Suspicious. I tried looking in the Office14 folder. Shockingly, there was nothing there.

My next thought was that the installation was somehow corrupt because of the missing executable files in the Office14 folder; not only was the one for Outlook missing, but for every other Office app. I checked the Control Panel and noticed the presence of a couple of items I had not explicitly installed, including something called Office Click-to-Run. I uninstalled it and it warned me that it would also uninstall Office 2010. Fine by me; that's what I'm headed for anyway. Uninstalled, rebooted, tried again. Same behavior as before, and the Click-to-Run entry is back. I turn to my good friend Google at this point to find out what Click-to-Run is and I find out that it's a virtualization of Office to allow faster purchase to use times for end users. It runs in its own virtual space by creating a "Q" drive on the machine, and that's why there are no .exe files along with it and no Safe Mode. A little more digging led me to this article on Slipstick about potential problems running Outlook from the Click-to-Run "installation". I followed their instructions for downloading the actual msi file and sure enough, once I had done a nice, traditional install everything worked as expected.

I can appreciate the allure of having instant ability to run an app that you purchase online or to try a new version of an app while still having your old one installed, and certainly being able to always download the latest version of the app (i.e. not having to run updates or install Service Packs afterwards) is great, but I feel like this virtualization of Office is a flashy cover for something that isn't really necessary or all that beneficial. Certainly the streaming technology has been around for a while now and is nothing new. Also, if the way in which it works means you can't use some of the most common features for business users like add-ins, Smartphone syncing, or interfacing with other applications like a CMR app, then it becomes pretty useless for the business user, and your average home user doesn't really need or use Outlook. I would assume this is part of the reason that this version of installation is not available for Professional and Professional Plus. I would argue that Home and Office should be included in this.

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