Do You Still Need Office for the Mac?

December 7th, 2006

Whenever I get a word processing document, I don’t have to look at the file extension or icon to know it’s probably in Word, or translated into that ubiquitous format in another application. A spreadsheet? Excel, of course, although things might be a little hazier with a presentation, since Apple’s Keynote does so many good things so well.

So it’s fair to say that the various components of Microsoft Office are as critical and common on the Mac as on Windows. In fact, many suggest that few would take a Mac seriously as a business computer without Office being regularly developed for the platform.

Certainly, Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit has been working seriously on the software for years. Sure, it’s been a while since a major release appeared, but there’s that little matter of making a Universal version, which meant bring millions of lines of code into a new development environment. Sprawling software requires sprawling efforts to move the lumbering beast forward.

However, rumors arise every so often that Microsoft keeps its Mac software available grudgingly, and they’d like nothing better than to discontinue all of it for good. If you want to use their products, switch to Windows. So whenever a product such as Windows Media Player is no longer available for Macs, concerns naturally follow. And, of course, we all know that the Windows version of Office has applications and features not available on the Mac.

It doesn’t help that Microsoft’s spin-doctors have changed the philosophy with which the software is released. At one time, Office for the Mac and Office for Windows were supposedly developed in alternating cycles, or at least that’s what they claimed at the time. One would leapfrog the other, and vice versa. Now the Mac version is expected to naturally follow the Windows edition by eight or nine months. This isn’t to say that Office for the Mac will simply be a port from Windows, although critical functions are carried over.

At the same time, I am thoroughly convinced that Microsoft’s Mac developers are thoroughly dedicated to their work. Over the years, I’ve talked to some of these people, and they are clearly Mac boosters through and through. Obviously, they have to toe the company line and they are no doubt constrained by policies imposed on them by the higher-ups, but they work long and hard to make the best software they can.

It is quite true that there are alternatives if you need Office compatibility. There are those Unix-based products, such as NeoOffice, a Mac version of OpenOffice, which is supposed to provide similar features and fairly robust translation in both directions.

Native Mac applications, such as Mariner Office, Mellel, Nisus Writer Express and even Apple’s Pages, are supposed to allow you to read and save Word files. Mariner Calc can be a useful alternative to Excel, lacking only certain power user features that few require.

Indeed, if you want to keep your Mac Microsoft-free, it’s not hard to survive, for the most part.

However, if you look at Office and consider it by its own merits rather than the name of the company that built it, you might find a lot to like. For writers and editors, the Track Changes feature is an extremely valuable method to keep tabs on the sometimes long and convoluted process a writing project might take. Certainly, I would not have come through over 30 technology books with my sanity intact without it. Despite some quirks here and there, this is one important capability that doesn’t survive translation via the third-party alternatives.

As an email client, Entourage seems to anticipate my every need, although its performance can drag in some areas.

I am not a regular Excel user anymore, and haven’t done any PowerPoint presentations to any great extent since writing a large book on Office several years ago, so I don’t consider myself qualified to speak on the ins and outs of those applications.

Sure, Office is huge, bloated, and sometimes buggy. But it’s also true that millions of Mac users have embraced it not because they have to, but because they consider it the best tool for the job.

You may not need Office, and no doubt the alternatives can fulfill most of the functions without being saddled with the Microsoft label. But I’m glad to have Office around and I look forward to the Universal version, which is promised for the third quarter of 2007.

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17 Responses to “Do You Still Need Office for the Mac?”

  1. Kevin Knott says:

    I personnaly find that I can do all I want just using Pages and Keynote, If they added a address label feature like the Office then I would happily remove Office from imac and laptop, maybe works ’07 will have it all !!.

  2. Terry says:

    If the Mac is to be a partner in the enterprise sector, Office is needed

  3. Paul says:

    I use Word usually only when I need to apply some scripting to a text file, macros and the like.
    However, Visual Basic and scripting is being removed from future versions of Mac Office, so I’m not quite sure if new versions will prove to be the Office client some folks need it to be.

    NeoOffice is a Mac variant of OpenOffice. NeoOffice is based on the OpenOffice code, but the NeoOffice developer doesn’t “report to” the OpenOffice project per se. The OpenOffice project is working on a fully Mac-native version of OpenOffice under the OpenOffice name; I believe this is due out late 2007. I am extremely impressed with NeoOffice (and OpenOffice), mirroring almost feature for feature key components of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access.

    Gene mentioned “track changes.” While I find the feature annoying and often the cause of corrupted files, that feature is in NeoOffice. (It is called “Record” changes under the Edit menu, Changes pull down.)

    NeoOffice is free, donations are accepted, and is available for PowerPC and Intel, but runs fairly slowly on a G5. I really like it on new Intel-based Macs. Again, I’m extremely impressed with NeoOffice, and encourage folks to take a look at the product at: (No I don’t work for them.)

    And for those PC users out there on a budget, try OpenOffice. $300 PCs aren’t so cheap when you have to add $300 for a Word processor and spreadsheet program.

  4. Alarik Skarstrom says:

    For editors, track changes is a sine qua none, and for a freelancer such as myself it would not be possible to make a living without track changes. For what it’s worth, however, I just discovered that NeoOffice/J version 2, beta 3, recognizes track changes in a Word document and provides for acceptance and rejection of the changes. I haven’t tried creating a document yet with track changes. Still, Word remains indispensable.

  5. Nick says:

    Most of the recommendations seem to be for Neo Office, even though most of the discussion revolves around word-processing. I’d be reluctant to install a huge and somewhat iffy Java port of, if my only requirement in office software were a word-processor. I’d be more inclined to use Abiword, which is slightly less capable than the wp in but which:

    (a) is far smaller;
    (b) has been ported to obj-C and Cocoa; and
    (c) doesn’t require an installer.

    It all depends on what one’s precise needs are. A full office suite would be overkill for many – heck, never mind Abiword, TextEdit would answer many people’s needs and can even open many Word documents. And then again real Excel junkies would probably turn their noses up at Neo Office and refuse to settle for anything less than Office.

  6. Andrew says:

    Gene wrote

    “At one time, Office for the Mac and Office for Windows were supposedly developed in alternating cycles, or at least that’s what they claimed at the time. One would leapfrog the other, and vice versa. Now the Mac version is expected to naturally follow the Windows edition by eight or nine months. This isn’t to say that Office for the Mac will simply be a port from Windows, although critical functions are carried over.”

    When has this changed last? Lets see, we had Office 97 for Windows, followed by Office 98 for Mac which was better. Office XP for Windows was next, followed by Office 2001 for Mac, which again was better than the Windows version. Office 2003 for Windows is still the current version, and was followed a year later by Office 2004 for Mac, which again was better than the Windows version.

    We have Office 2007 coming out in January (not counting the business pre-release last month) and a new Mac version coming a bit later. The new Mac version, based on 98, 01 and 04 versions, will come a bit later than the Windows version, will lack the Access application, and will be slicker, cleaner and nicer than the Windows version.

    Like Gene, I am very happy with the Mac programmers’ work at Microsoft. With the exception of Word 6, all Mac versions have been “Mac like” in feel, offered a terrific user experience and maintained compatibility with the Windows version that no level of import/export can ever match.

    Since I use both Macs and Windows at home and work, I’ll wait for the Mac version of Office to come out before I upgrade on the Windows side, and then I’ll likely do both. Looking to non MS Office alternatives just isn’t an option for me, especially not with the complex formatting of legal documents that often breaks in a converter.

    Another reason for my lack of interest in Office-alternatives is as Gene suggested, its just very nice software. Its been almost 20 years since I switched from Word Perfect for DOS to Word for Windows 1.0. I started using Macs in 1993 and Word 5.1 became an instant favorite. I’ve progressed through every version on both platforms since Word for Windows 1.0 and Word for Mac 5.1, and with the exception of version 6 (on both platforms) and version 95 for Windows, which all were very slow, I’ve always been delighted.

    Hopefully, they continue as they have for the last decade.

  7. brent lee says:

    I have to agree with (Kevin Knott) iWork is all I have ever needed and does an amazing job at that! I do keep excel around though. My friend who is a professor of I.T.T. just switched to a Macbook Pro. He could not wait to invest in iWork ’06 and then just keep Excel around. He gives so many presentations Keynote was very attractive to him. Plus he is pretty fed up with the MS side of things.

  8. Richard Taylor says:

    As a novelist, I sometimes have to use the “track changes” feature in Word with editors, so I haven’t thrown Word out yet. This year I switched to Pages for actual writing, though, because Pages just looks better on screen, particularly in full screen mode. I’m looking forward to the next iteration of Pages as I understand it will take on more of a word processing look and feel. The current menu system is somewhat atypical. However, after hours and hours looking at a computer screen, every little bit helps. Pages has the ‘little bit.’

  9. Dana Reed says:

    One place where alternatives to Word fall down is integration with bibliography software like Endnote and Refworks. When writing scientific papers and grant applications, these programs are huge timesavers and it’s hard to consider a program that doesn’t have this functionality.

  10. brett says:

    Ditto. I prefer to use other apps for writing — Scrivener, OmniOutliner, even TextEdit — because of Word’s feature bloat (which gegts in the way of the stuff I actually use), often counterintuitive interface, and tendency to crash. (The only two apps that have crashed on my Mac in recent years are Word and WMP.) I even changed my default app for opening text and .doc files from Word to TextEdit.

    But as a journalist, I sometimes ( no more than 10% of the time) have to deal with editors who use Word’s track changes feature (still unmatched), so that’s when I’ll boot it up. I save often when I do.

    With the recent announcement that Office for Windows .doc files won’t be readable by older Mac versions of office (can you confirm that Gene?), unless the sender saves them as rtf or old-.doc file types, I may have to decide whether to acctually buy Word again after many years of relying on Office X provided by an employer. I have NeoOffice but haven’t used it much; I’m glad it’s out there but suffers from some of Word’s bloatedness in an uglier interface. Still, if it or Pages or OO for Mac will allow seamless back and forth translation with Word files, including track changes and comments, I’d certainly prefer to use them in those rare cases when editors try to force me to use Word.

    I wish MS would come out with a cheap, stand alone version of Word that includes only the writing and editing features, without all the layout and other bloat that most writers in the electronic era don’t use. Sort of like TextEdit vs. Pages, where the latter focuses on producing printed documents and the former on writing.

  11. Dana Sutton says:

    At the moment Excel is the hardest Office component to live without because there’s no fully satisfactory alternative. I’ve seen rumors that the next version of iWork will contain a spreadsheet app. If it does, I will probably be able banish Office to Home>Archives>Unused Apps.
    I. m. h. o., Word 5.1 was the greatest word processing app. that ever was, but it’s been all downhill from there. It was rock-solid stable, fast, and had a simple interface. Then Microsoft made the disastrous mistake of falling in love with toolbars and tried to create a word processor that could do everything but mow the user’s lawn, and the rest is history.

  12. Andrew says:

    Brett, I think your Word instability is related to your using Word X instead of 2004, which since the first service pack, has been far more reliable than the earlier versions.

    I used to get crashes too, but haven’t had Word 2004 crash since, well, 2004.

  13. nick says:

    I dislike M$ as much as everyone else, but I still use Word. It’s the only thing the school computers have, and so I need it to print things out at work. Other than that I use Pages, but it’s a memory hog. AppleWorks is okay, but it is definitely showing its age.
    I don’t do spreadsheets so I don’t use Excel.
    I never use Power Point; I find Keynote to be infinitely superior.

  14. Bud Phillips says:

    I still like the old comment that “Microsoft Word is like an octopus that they keep trying to graft more arms onto” –
    I use MS software – on both platforms, somewhat interchangeably – We all want interoperability – If MS, Apple, and the Open Source Community could agree – computing/communications worldwide might change.
    I guess that I am saying that those of us who can be “paying customers” should demand that we have open standards for the benefit of those not able to easily “Pay Today”

  15. BDK says:

    I feel sorry for the Mac Office development team. They’re so into Macs, but work for a company that develops 2-ton software. Word opens up in one second on Windows, but takes 10 seconds to open on Mac. If the Mac development team had stuck to Apple’s software guidelines, they wouldn’t have to completely re-write Office for Intel Macs.

  16. I’ve long thought of Word as one of the worst programs ever written, on either platform. When I got round to writing up my A level computing coursework I started doing it in Word. Big mistake. I was dealing with lots of tables, lists, images, code listings etc. In the end I just got fed up and checked out what else was out there. I settled on Nisus Writer Express and never looked back. It is amazing just how easy it is to do stuff like tables and lists. Of course it isn’t perfect, it doesn’t yet feature image wrapping (at least I can’t find it) but I’d recommend it to anyone over Word any day. I also seem to remember they had an advertising campaign that went something like this: “How can we offer a text editor for a quarter of the price of MS Word? By only giving you the quarter of the features of Word you’d actually use and leaving the rest out”.

  17. Andrew says:

    Word takes 10 seconds to launch on your Mac? What version of Word? What Mac? Perhaps Word 2004 would take 10 seconds to open on a G3 iBook in OSX, but even on my G4 (slow) it opens in about 3 seconds.

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