Microsoft Ex-Hell

It's fair to say I'm not a big fan of the monopoly Microsoft have across IT, however, I do love the workhorse that is Excel; except when it goes wrong and leaves you in IT hell. You're very quickly reminded of the stable from which it comes.

Microsoft Excel Invisible Font Mac OS X

The Mysterious Case of The Invisible Fonts

The last version of Microsoft Office I had installed on my Mac was Office X and it had served me well since 2003. But, as is the way with IT, things move on and because more and more .docx files were being sent through by Customers then I was forced to upgrade - I didn't need any of the extra fluff that Office 2011 gave me and Excel & Word were performing perfectly well but that's not the point and that's IT for you.

So I upgraded, downloaded and installed Office 2011 and right from the start the process was far from simple and within 10 minutes was online with Microsoft support but this isn't a rant about Microsoft from a Mac fanboy so I'll save that for another day maybe and, instead, document a real headache that Microsoft couldn't be arsed to help me out with. Although the problem first displayed in Word it became clear very quickly that it wasn't a Word glitch but an Office-wide issue as it was also appearing in Excel - the one line of Microsoft software I'd genuinely miss. Pages and Numbers from Apple do open and save .docx and .xlsx documents respectively but, alas, neither rendered a facsimile copy to work with.

Microsoft Office Opens Blank Documents with Invisible Fonts

After installation, I opened a Customer's Word .docx file and found that the document was empty - well, not totally empty because after a bit of poking around I realised that the document's content was actually within the document except that it was invisible. I could select it, copy it and paste it into other documents but couldn't edit or work on the native document. Microsoft's support was totally useless, my request for help went unanswered until I received an automated response from Microsoft 24 hours later that read: "Thank you for your e-mail. We have moved from supporting Office for Mac via email to a new forum at the Office for Mac Answers forum at". Words failed me, just as Word and Microsoft was failing me.

I trawled the Web and found very little in the way of similar experiences about the invisible fonts in Office on a Mac, the best advice suggested that there's a font conflict which Office has and that the way to resolve the invisible fonts was to remove duplicate fonts from the Mac's Library. So I spent a chunk of time identifying and disabling duplicate fonts with Apple's Font Book utility; boy, did resolving font conflicts take me back to the 1990's and did I find myself thanking Microsoft for taking me back through time and reminding me just how much time can be wasted with font management.

The Invisible Font Problem Is Not With Font Conflicts

Regrettably, the problem of invisible fonts in the Office suite persisted and the journey through IT hell continued. Some hope did come in the form of venturing into the Microsoft Ribbon (yeah, I know, urgh!) and changing the style of the document to Word 2010. Whilst this wasn't the final solution it did help to identify and confirm that the problem was with Microsoft's font management. Changing the style of the Word document did make the content of the document appear because the font that the Word 2012 style used was not part of the suite of fonts shipped with Microsoft Office. When documents were set by a Customer, using a font such as Arial, the invisible font problem hid the content but upon selecting all the content and changing the font to Arial Unicode then the content appeared.

Reinstall The Microsoft Font Directory

The solution to the invisible font problem was to delete the entire Microsoft font directory from the OS X user's Font Library. To be sure I used MacKeeper's Smart Uninstaller although I'm pretty sure you could just drag the Microsoft folder to the Trash (even typing that felt good :-P). With the font folder deleted and Mac rebooted I inserted the backup disc, which had arrived after I'd ordered it at the time of downloading Office 2011, and I ran the installer - choosing the custom installation and only installing the Microsoft Office fonts. When Excel was next started-up its splash (startup) screen showed Excel rebuilding its font menu, the problem of invisible fonts is now behind us and Excel and I are now the very best of friends once again.

Windows 8 & Internet Explorer 10

We're days away from the launch of Internet Explorer 10, Windows 8 and Microsoft's Surface tablet - the press and media will, I expect, be full of gushing praise for what Micro$oft have achieved and I guess we'll have to put up with more pants Explorer ads on TV. The trouble is, however much I still rate Excel, I'm still an MS hater as nothing in the world of Microsoft seems to be straight forward. Don't get me wrong, Apple's far from perfect either, however, bugs that interfere with the user experience on a Mac are still few-and-far between yet even if there's a problem you're having with a Mac you can walk into an Apple Store and talk about it with a smiling humanoid.

Regardless of how good any technology is, a proposition will fall over if a company is unable to support its products and services and give its Customers the help and advice it needs.

I'm far from an Apple fanboy but I think* there's more than a good chance that it'll be another 9 years again before I purchase and download any more Office upgrades.


Andy avatarAndy30th November 1999
Ahhh, I see your problem Steve. Unfortunately you are still a naive user who has not yet unfurled the truth behind Microsoft. Back in the great fuel war of 2134, Microsoft sent back in time its in[FIN]ite ener[GY] technology (or 'fingy' for short) and has successfully installed it as an algorithm in all current Microsoft products. When you call Microsoft next time, simply explain that your 'fingy' isn't working properly. They will nod and wink knowingly, despite being down the end of a phone only, and will immediately send their nanobots scuttling through the phone line and into your ear where, like babel-fish, they will feed off of the anger and frustration your brainwaves and synapses are emitting enabling you to resolve the problem 'apparently' yourself. Your uninstallation of the fonts was by design and it first and foremost fixed the 'fingy' wot was wrong. It could not have been achieved without sufficient heightened levels of anger fermenting inside your noggin upon which the little nanobots would feed.

Don't thank me for this explanation, thank Microsoft from the future.

This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays
Steve Whiting avatarSteve Whiting30th November 1999
I see your time-travel techno-solution and marvel at the complexity of such a fingy. However, users too are used to the concept of MS prompt[ed] time travel - we use software products badged 2011 but in order to get them (kind of) working we have to reset it to 2010 settings.

I simply love how I signed-up to an online support forum, posted a question and, 24 hours later, got an email back from MS Support telling me that they no longer offer email support and that I needed to login to an online forum which they were happy to direct me to. #numbnuts

Then there were the two emails from the forum asking how my experience with MS Support was. You can tell how much I'd love to have honestly completed those little suckers. I'm not sure that they'd even be read or actioned so I'm bloggin them my feedback. I hope they're listening. #doughnuts
When I'm done you may view my sauce.
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