32-bit or 64-bit: That is the question

“Which Office 2010 should I install, 32-bit or 64-bit?” I’m not going to answer that here. Well, almost not. I realized that you may or may not have a choice. If you look at your computer’s Properties page and don’t see a phrase like “64-bit Operating System,” this whole debate is for naught. You MUST install 32-bit Office. However, most new computers that I see on retail shelves are 64-bit these days, so it’s a valid question for many.

Why should you care which is which? The quoted bit size refers to the largest “chunk” of information a computer can process at once. So a 64-bit operating system can process bigger chunks than a 32-bit operating system. This also means that a 64-bit operating system can manage larger amounts of memory than a 32-bit operating system. So you get bigger chunks processed and more of them loaded into memory. That should result in fewer trips to the hard disk for new content which should mean faster performance. To learn more about 32-bit and 64-bit Windows, visit http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/32-bit-and-64-bit-Windows-frequently-asked-questions.

The prevailing wisdom says to install 32-bit Office. There’s some logic to that. It will run on most Windows systems and is probably safest for mixed environments, places where not every computer is 64-bit capable. However, because I could, I installed the 64-bit version, and am mostly satisfied. However, there are a few observations I’d like to share:

  • Installation requires effort. Not much, but the default installation is the 32-bit version. That’s most likely because it will run with any supported Windows installation (like I already said). So if you insert the Office 2010 DVD and expect the automated startup to give you a choice of 32-bit or 64-bit, prepare to be disappointed. You’ll get a 32-bit install every time.

To install the 64-bit version, exit the automated setup and start Windows Explorer. Click the Office 2010 DVD. Click the “64-bit” folder. Double-click “setup” or “setup.exe.” That will start the installation of 64-bit Office 2010.

  • Memeo backup programs want 32-bit Outlook. I mean the free backup software that comes with many external hard drives. It seems to be hard-wired to find 32-bit mail applications, and issues an error message when it doesn’t. I don’t think that’s a show-stopper as far as backup goes, but it interferes with Memeo’s attempts to sell commercial products, including a 64-bit backup program that should address this issue. I have not confirmed this, I’m too cheap. Have you?

    It’s often true that if one program behaves in a certain way, so do others. I haven’t found any yet. Again, have you?

  • Office updates fail. Microsoft Update usually works great. But there are a few Office 2010 updates for which it seems to default to the 32-bit versions, even when the update title says “64-bit.” How did I discover this? When I discover that an update has failed, my usual workaround is to check the update log for the Knowledge Base (KB) article, look up the article online, then download and install the file. However, using the article number by itself only gave me the 32-bit download. Hopefully a fix is in the works, but what I do for now is this: After obtaining the article number, I do a Google search that adds “+64-bit,” to the number, as in “KB982726+64-bit” which takes me to the 64-bit version. I download the file and install. It hasn’t failed me yet (knocks on wood).

Do you have something to say on which Office 2010 version you use and why? Drop us a line.

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