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Get Office 2011 working in Retina Display mode

Despite updating to the latest Office 2011 for Mac, which supports Retina Displays, users are finding the programs still open in low-resolution modes. Here's what to do.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
3 min read

Yesterday Microsoft released an update for Office 2011 for Mac which added high-resolution support for Apple's Retina Display; however, after applying the update a number of people are finding the Office programs still open in low-resolution mode. In some cases one or two of the Office programs appear to run in Retina mode, while the others do not.

It appears the system simply is not recognizing the new high-resolution capabilities of Office. If you get information on the program in the Finder (select it and press Command-I), you will see the Open in Low Resolution setting is grayed out and checked, which is the default behavior for programs that do not support Retina displays.

Info.plist file showing high-resolution capability
Opening the Info.plist file for each application shows that each does contain the appropriate key and value for triggering high-resolution mode (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

High-resolution mode support and other features of a program (such as readable document types and system version requirements) are stored in a property list file called Info.plist that is located within the application package itself. You can see this file by right-clicking the program and choosing Show Package Contents and then opening the Contents folder.

When the program is launched for the first time, this Info.plist file is read by the system; however, the system only does this once. The file is not read again unless the system detects the problem has been altered, which is determined by comparing the program's current Modification Date timestamp with that of when the system initially read its Info.plist file.

Word info windows after timestamp update
With the program's modification date timestamp updated, the new Info.plist file is loaded and the high-resolution capabilities become available (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

Regarding the recent Office update, while Microsoft appropriately updated the applications, it only replaced relevant components within the application package, without updating the package's "Modification Date" timestamp. Therefore, even though the program was updated the system has not been instructed to load the updated Info.plist file, and continues to use the the previous version, which doesn't contain any details about Retina Display support, and hence the system continues to assume Office can only use low-resolution mode.

The way to fix this problem is to force the system to reread the Info.plist file and thereby load Office's new capabilities, which can be done by manually updating the modification date timestamp for the affected programs. To do this, open the Terminal utility (in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder) and perform the following steps:

  1. Type the word "touch" followed by a single space.
  2. Drag the Office applications to the Terminal window (you can do this for all at the same time, or one at a time).
  3. After all programs have been dragged to the window, press Enter.

(Note: If this does not work, then repeat this procedure but type "sudo touch" instead of just "touch" in the first step. After doing this you will have to supply your password, but it will not be shown).

touch command running in the Terminal
In the Terminal, dragging each program to the Terminal window after typing the "touch" command name will enter the full path to each respective program. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

When this is done, the system should detect the program as having been updated and subsequently reload the Info.plist file contained within it. Now if you open the program the system should use its high-resolution capabilities, and give you the option to turn this on or off in the program's information window.

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