Why your Office 2004 fonts want to keep loading in OS X

Thinking of deleting all those Asian fonts you have no use for? Read this first.

Article Contributed by Jeff Wiseman

After spending a LOT of time investigating this, and with the gracious coaching of Matt Neuburg (thanks a lot Matt!) as well as other participants on various newsgroups, I feel that I've finally come to a fairly solid understanding of this problem and why it is occurring. I want to get this summary down so others running into it won't have the aggravation that I've had. Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done about the problem except avoid it until Apple stabilizes their font support software and Microsoft stops using strange undocumented controls in their products in a way that impacts customers.

Please note that the following consists of my own personal observations and assumptions made through experimentation using Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac on a G5 iMac running OS X 10.3.6 over a period of 3 or 4 days. My descriptions of how the software products in question function are only educated guesses based on my recent observations and not from any inside understandings of those products.


Every time someone starts an Office 2004 product, such as Word, for the first time, they get the entire office font set dumped into their home fonts folder at ~/Library/Fonts, even if the fonts are already installed there or anyplace else in OS X (usually the /Library/Fonts folder).  This happens most often when an additional user is added to an installation or (as explained below) when a user deletes their Office preferences for some reason.  In either case, Office may sense a “first run” situation. Although I didn’t test for it, this might also occur to an admin account after doing an update or upgrade for Office.

Note that it is possible on a system with multiple accounts for some users not to see this problem (i.e., fonts never load) where others do see it. The chances of incurring the problem increase the more that a user utilizes the Font Book utility.


Office seems to detect a first run on its products (at least in part) by the absence of Microsoft Office-related preferences in the ~/Library/preferences area. When an application like Word is first started and it determines that this is its first time to run for this user, it checks the OS X font environment of the user for the presence of one or more specific Windows True Type fonts distributed with the Office Installation. The font(s) that is checked for appears to be from the following list:

I do not know which of these fonts is the trigger (see Addendum below for an update) but it seems to be one or more from this list. Note that this set is the complete set of Windows True type fonts provided with Office. Also note that they are all Asian type fonts.

When Office is checking for the presence of a particular font, it does so by using the OS X font management facilities, not by looking in various locations itself. This is an appropriate way to do things but it is significant relative to this problem as I will explain later. If it does NOT find the font(s) in question, it then copies all of the fonts in the Applications area for Office into the User's home font folder (~/Library/Fonts). This is a reasonable algorithm for installation in that a user has control over their own fonts and an Administrator can move them to a common area if desired.


The main issue is that Office tends to install all of its fonts even when they are already present. In searching this out I've discovered that this is a result of three issues:

  1. The set of eight fonts identified above appear to be eccentric to start with and all exhibit the same characteristics in the Mac's font system. None of the other 70+ fonts installed by Office have any of these problems. None of the Windows TrueType fonts or any others that come with OS X have these problems. Some of the strange characteristics of these fonts when installed in OS X 10.3.6 are:

    a. If you double-click on any of these fonts, although the Font Book utility opens, you will usually not get an install window.

    b. If these fonts are duplicated in the Font system (i.e., a copy in /Library/Fonts and another copy in ~/Library/Fonts), they can "disappear" from the font system. This doesn't mean they are disabled, but rather they won't even show up as Disabled fonts in places such as the Font Book utility.

    c. Disabling one of these fonts can (and on my installation always did) result in it disappearing from view in the Font Book. Again, I am not removing the font; I am disabling it when this happens.

    The problem in a nutshell is that these fonts are disappearing from the font environment of the user, even though they actually still exist in the proper folders. Since Office uses the OS's view of installed fonts, the OS is reporting to Office that they do not exist and as a result, Office reinstalls another set of unneeded fonts on a first run.

  2. The fonts in each user's environment (i.e., the list of all enabled fonts that a user can see or use) are determined through the Mac OS's font management system. It appears that the files that track this information can be very unstable. This information appears to be kept partly in the com.apple.ATS.plist file located in the user's preferences folder. When fonts disappear from the visibility of applications and utilities such as Font Book, deleting the preference file and logging out and then back in again can cause those lost fonts to again show up in the Font Book's menu (although Collection enable/disable states can be altered and would need to be reset). I have found through several hours of experimenting that the Microsoft fonts listed above are the only ones that seem to keep being dropped from sight, which has the same effect of disabling them. None of the other Office fonts are affected like this. In other words, the very fonts that Microsoft is using to determine whether or not their font set is installed are the very ones that are so ill-behaved that the font system keeps losing track of them, necessitating a preference file deletion in order to get them detectable again.
  1. The Font Book utility is very buggy IMHO (I've seen Beta test software far more stable than this thing appears to be). Without further experimentation using other font tools, I personally have become convinced that the Font Book itself is the main reason for the instabilities identified in #2 above. I believe this because even the handling of Collections seems to be just as buggy as the more direct font handling functions. This utility appears to work okay at first, but if you look closer and actually try using it to do what it is supposed to do, you start seeing constant inconsistencies. If you don't use it for anything except previewing fonts, it seems okay. But, if you start creating multiple Collections with large numbers of fonts in them (e.g., an "Office fonts" collection) strange things start to happen. I’ve seen a situation where when you drag a font from one Collection to another, it is totally ignored. Then when you try to delete the Collection, it refuses to go away. If you then look into the Font Collections folder you can see things like "test.collection" and "test.collection.collection" both sitting there.

    When you have duplicate fonts in the system, it can get pretty confused here too. Once I saw where it wouldn't even let you assign one of the duplicates to a Collection since it seemed to insist on locking it into a "Family" that it had found elsewhere. However, the Font Book's tolerance for the eccentric font set identified previously is particularly bad. When these fonts are present, especially as duplicates (which is what this problem is all about—installing the font set when it is already in place) you hardly have to do anything in Font Book to see them disappear from view. When you can't see them in Font Book, your applications can't see them, and Office's font installation software can't see them resulting in the problem being documented here—the font system can’t see them even though they are right there in one or more Font folders.



After completing this article I became aware of a publication titled "Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac Resource Kit" (download here [Lene Fredborg, 11-Feb-2018: Removed outdated link to http://www.microsoft.com/Mac/downloads.aspx?pid=download&location=/Mac/download/office2004/office2004ResourceKit.xml&secid=4&ssid=7&flgnosysreq=True]) which describes the method of controlling font installations with Office 2004. It states that the font which Office 2004 checks for during run time installation is the MS Gothic font. It also states that the way to prevent Office from installing fonts is to remove the file named "Do Fonts" in the Microsoft Office 2004/Office folder. I have not verified either of these behaviors but they would not be inconsistent with what I have already observed and described in this article.

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