Microsoft on Tuesday updated Office 2016 for Mac with security patches and a host of smaller feature changes, but did not fix the constant-crash problem users have reported on OS X El Capitan, Apple's newest operating system.
Instead, the company told customers to sit tight and wait for Apple to ship an update for El Capitan, aka OS X 10.11, strongly suggesting that the mess was Apple's responsibility.
"On October 13, 2015, we released an update to Office 2016 for Mac ... [but] this update doesn't address the issues experienced by Office customers with OS X 10.11 El Capitan," the company said in an unsigned note on its support site. "We are actively working with Apple to ensure resolution with the next update of OS X 10.11 El Capitan."
Microsoft has been taking a beating on its Office 2016 for Mac support discussion forum since Sept. 30, the day Apple released El Capitan. Since then, numerous threads have been produced by users looking for an explanation and a fix.
The longest thread so far -- which harked back to early July, just a day after Microsoft shipped the final Office 2016 for Mac and Apple issued the first public beta of El Capitan -- had logged nearly 48,000 views and contained more than 525 messages as of late Tuesday, both extremely large numbers for the forum.
Most of the crashes have involved Outlook, customers reported, but other applications, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, have also regularly dropped dead, either separately or when Outlook went down. Computerworld staffers running Office 2016 for Mac on El Capitan-powered Macs have been affected as well.
Tuesday's Office for Mac 2016 update -- available only to consumers or businesses that have subscribed to a rent-not-own Office 365 plan -- was billed as a security rollout, but it also included multiple non-security bug fixes and improvements for Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Word.
Although Microsoft said that Tuesday's update did not include a fix for the Office 2016 for Mac crashes, some users who had installed the update reported that their applications had stopped dying. "I installed the Oct. 13 update to Office 2016 about 5-6 hours ago and have had no anomalies since," said Coe Miles on Tuesday.
Not so fast, others countered.
"I thought I was past the lockups after working with the 15.15 patches for about 4 hours, but I just clicked Delete on an email message (in an Office 365 for business account) from the messages list and got the spinning wheel of death," said someone identified only as "mogrefy" late Tuesday. "The wait for stability continues, though thus far it seems to be somewhat improved (Word hasn't locked up on me in a few hours of use, longer than ever before -- or maybe it was luck and wishful thinking)."
Others added their two cents. "Everything seemed okay for a few hours after the installation of today's Office 2016 15.15 patches," echoed a user with the unusual nickname of "What's that smell" on the same very-long thread. "However, five hours in I'm starting to see the same crash behavior, where all running Office 2016 apps crash after Outlook experiences the restyled-for-El-Capitan spinning pinwheel of death."
Those customers' experience confirmed Microsoft's statement that there was no crash fix in Tuesday's Office for Mac 2016 update.
The Redmond, Wash., company's comment that it was "working with Apple to ensure resolution with the next update of OS X 10.11," hinted that Microsoft believed Apple's code was either partly or completely responsible. If the former, a two-punch update may be necessary -- one update for El Capitan, another for Office -- to stamp out the crashes because of an interdependency.
Last week, Computerworld suspected that El Capitan at least shared the blame after several staffers who had encountered crashes installed the public beta of OS X 10.11.1 and got some relief. While the dreaded crashes eventually returned, they have diminished in frequency when running OS X 10.11.1.
Apple does not set timetables for its OS X (or iOS) updates, and did not reply to Computerworld's questions about responsibility, but the release pace -- just six days between the second and third betas of 10.11 -- may give Office 2016 for Mac users hope for a speedy resolution.
Or not. Microsoft, it seems, can do nothing more than wait. Like its customers.