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MacOS Catalina update tips and Office compatibility

Mac users can now update their computers to MacOS Catalina release but there’s important things to do before updating and some good reasons to wait a little while.

Microsoft Office compatibility

As we warned back in June, older Office for Mac will not work with MacOS Catalina.

If you have Office 2011 for Mac or before, do NOT update to Catalina because Office will stop working.  There’s no workaround for this.

Office 2016 for Mac needs to be v15.35 or later, which it probably is, if you’ve updated anytime in the last few months.  Check the version in one of the Office apps or go to Help | Check for updates.

The current Office for Mac; Office 365 or Office 2019 are OK with Catalina.

What’s in it?

Apple has their list of Catalina changes here.  Two changes stand out for us.  One is a major change in the way audio/video entertainment is managed.  The other is great for Microsoft Office users, thought it’s not available to everyone.

iTunes is gone

Farewell iTunes. The single program for entertainment is split into separate programs; Music, TV and Podcasts.  The latter two appeared, unwanted, on the Dock (just like Microsoft, Apple isn’t above putting unsubtle ads on the screen).  It’s easy to get rid of these, or any, unwanted intrusions.  Bring up the menu for the Dock icon and choose Options | Remove from Dock.

Dual Screen for some

Catalina boasts Sidecar which lets you use an iPad as a secondary screen for your Mac.

Source: Apple

This works wirelessly and gives a Mac computer touch features via the iPad screen.  That includes using an Apple Pencil. The extended screen also gets a Touch Bar, even if the Mac doesn’t have a hardware Touch Bar. Office for Mac supports Touch Bar so you can get extra buttons on Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

TouchBar at the bottom of an iPad screen  Source: Duet

If Sidecar seems familiar, that’s because it’s VERY similar to the existing utility Duet that we’ve talked about before.

Duet still has a place because it works way beyond the narrow range of devices that Catalina’s Sidecar does.   Not just more Mac’s but also Windows computers with iPad as the second screen.

Sidecar limitations

Sidecar has very specific hardware requirements that leave many Apple customers out.

On the computer side you need:

  • MacBookor MacBook Pro from 2016 or later
  • Macbook Airfrom 2018 or later.
  • iMac from 2015 onwards
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac minifrom 2018 onwards
  • the upcoming Mac Pro.

The computer needs an in-built USB-C socket to connect with a cable.  In our experience a wired connection is more reliable and quick compared to a wireless connection.

Sidecar viable Ipads are iPad Pro 12.9”, 11”, 10.5” or 9.7”, iPad 6th generation or later, iPad Air 3rd gen or later or iPad mini 5th gen or later.  If that seems confusing there’s a shortcut; if your iPad supports Apple Pencil, it’ll support Sidecar.

Of course, both devices need to be running the latest operating system, Catalina or iOS 13.

If you don’t have the necessary hardware or (gasp) have a Windows computer, Duet will extend Mac or Windows screens to an iPad with fewer hardware limits than Sidecar.

Before updating to Catalina

Before doing a major change to your operating systems, there’s important preparation that you skip at your peril.

Backup, Backup, Backup

As usual, make one or more backups.  This is especially important for your audio and video media as well as photos.

The change from iTunes to separate programs should go smoothly but it’ll be frustrating if your carefully collected music files are messed up in the changeover.

Catalina also has big changes to the Photos program so make sure all your photographs and video are copied, just in case.

Update programs

It’s a good idea to update your Mac programs before the change to Catalina.  Third-party developers, including Microsoft, have been using and testing Catalina for some time, so they should have already updated their apps to work and take advantage of new features.

Update Microsoft Office for Mac from any Office program Help | Check for Updates.

In other programs, look for an updates option under Help or the program menu at top left.

Some programs, including Microsoft Remote Desktop, are updated via the Mac App Store | Updates.

The free Adobe Reader DC program would not update on our machines, for unknown reasons.  We had to download and install the latest version from Adobe.  Go to  ignore the extra’s like McAfee anti-virus.

32-bit begone

As we’ve already mentioned.  Catalina won’t work with old 32-bit programs.

That’s the main reason why Office 2011 for Mac won’t work with Catalina.

Apple has been warning about this for years and developers should have switched to 64-bit programs even if you didn’t realize it.

But it’s worth checking any older programs to make sure they are 64-bit.  The Catalina update checks for non-compatible programs but some might be overlooked.


There are likely to be problems with any major updates to an operating system, Mac or Windows. Office Watch quickly updated to Catalina so we could write this article, but most people don’t need to update now.

Better to wait, let others discover any bugs and give time for Apple to fix them.  December this year or early 2020 might be more prudent.

There’s little in Catalina that demands an immediate update.

Time consuming update

Catalina is more time consuming to update than previous MacOS changes.  Don’t expect to resume working right away because there’s quite a few prompts to clear.

The update process is standard, a 6.5GB download then up to 45 minutes for the actual install. Apple recommends having at least 20GB of free disk space for the changeover. The update is normal for Mac’s and mostly happens without human intervention.

The problem is the update aftermath. Notification program permissions have to be reconfirmed.  Get ready for the right of the screen to unleash many requests to Allow or Don’t Allow notifications plus restoring folder access for some programs.

Existing apps need renewed approval including Microsoft Outlook.

It’s not difficult, just a surprise. In most cases choose ‘Allow’ or ‘OK’.


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