Is Office Still Relevant on the Mac?

August 9th, 2012

As Microsoft develops Office 2013 for Windows, there is no news as yet about a successor to Office 2011 for the Mac. A year after Lion appeared, Mac Office still doesn’t fully support the new features, and now we’re in the Mountain Lion era. At best, you will find full screen support in some apps, such as Word 2011. But that’s as far as it goes.

This flies in the face of Microsoft’s original promise, made a year ago, where support was promised for Auto Save and Version. Consider a story in The author’s conclusion, based on conversations with Microsoft is that, “When they may come to Office for Mac, however, remains uncertain at best.”

Very uncertain. So uncertain that Microsoft isn’t talking about that promise a year out. But the media usually doesn’t call Microsoft out on broken promises, so they will continue to be made. Compare that to what Apple represents about a new product or service. More often than not, the promise is fulfilled. Sure, there are legitimate arguments to be made about whether things are truly better. iCloud, for example, remains highly flaky, with occasional email outages, and a notorious inability for contacts to be reliably synced from OS X to iOS and back again.

Auto Save can also be controversial. To some, it was a step backwards, even though having the OS automatically save your documents — at least on apps updated for the new OS — is a good thing. But the loss of the Save As feature in Lion — since restored in Mountain Lion — was roundly criticized.

But that takes us way beyond the scope of this article, which is whether we really need Microsoft Office on the Mac platform anymore. Yes, I grant that, if you work at a company that requires Office, there’s no real choice. You might look at other apps that promise compatibility, but you’ll soon see the two-way path isn’t always reliable.

Take Pages, from the iWork suite from Apple. At $20 from the Mac App Store, it’s a real bargain. Pages is quite a useful word processor, with adequate desktop publishing capabilities. It’s easy to use, and, as you might expect, fully complaint with key Mountain Lion features.

Despite the lower price, you may find Pages less satisfactory. For some reason, it takes fully twice as long to launch as Word 2011 on my late 2009 iMac. Fidelity with Word documents is mixed. Text transfer is seamless, fonts and layouts less so, and there is the ability to track document changes required by publishers. It may work, or it may be less accurate.

If you are moving your entire workflow to Pages, however, it may prove satisfactory except for documents that need to retain 100% formatting compatibility with the original Word versions.

When it comes to Excel users, those who rely on the most sophisticated features may not find them in Numbers, so the switchover will remain a non-starter. The same may be true in moving from PowerPoint to Keynote.

There are other alternatives, such as the open source OpenOffice, and a number of really flexible standalone word processors that may prove more useful if you can cope with possible document compatibility concerns when importing from Word. Nisus Writer (Express or Pro) and Mellel offer a number of unique features that cater to different segments of the market. A quick online search, or just browsing through the Mac App Store, will reveal some useful Word alternatives.

When it comes to email, I’ve never been able to live consistently within Outlook 2011. Sure, it may offer better compatibility with Microsoft Exchange than Apple Mail, but the cost is a bloated app with those annoying ribbons and lethargic performance. One notable change brought by installing Lion or Mountain Lion is the inability to import accounts from Mail. With all their resources, Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit still hasn’t figured out how to accomplish that task. The ability to sync your Outlook contact information with iCloud never seems to work, although there is actually a preference for Sync Services. But I haven’t found a way to bring up any of my accounts to sync, nor does Outlook recognize the data from Mountain Lion’s Contacts app.

After using Outlook for a couple of hours, you may find yourself longing for Mail, which is sleeker, faster, and an all-around superior app.

Certainly, Microsoft appears to be running out of ways to make Office more compelling. The most notable change in Office 2013 for Windows is half-hearted support for touch. But it appears to be limited to expanding the ribbons to improve your aim if you choose to activate those functions with your fingers. What a waste!

Past swapping Outlook for Entourage, and simplifying a few features along the way, the value of Office 2011 over Office 2008 is questionable. Other than expanding the ribbon and making some minor performance improvements, the feature list in Office 2011 isn’t terribly extensive. And don’t bother to give me the checklist. I know all about it, and there’s nothing that interests me. Indeed, removing some functions from the menu bar and placing them in the ribbon is a step back in my opinion.

At least Mac users don’t have to contend with those dreadful tiles from the interface formerly known as Metro. But if Microsoft has their way, that, too, might change if there is ever a successor to Office 2011.

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14 Responses to “Is Office Still Relevant on the Mac?”

  1. dfs says:

    Office certainly isn’t necessary any more, it’s surprising how little I use it. But what is important is the .doc/.docx format and its equivalents in other pieces of the Office suite. Look, I get a .doc file from somebody, I open it in Pages, then save it as a .doc file and send back. Or somebody who creates his word processing files in Nexus creates a file, sends it to me as a .doc file, I open it in Pages, work on it, save it as a .doc file and send it back. See what I mean? The formats associated with Office constitute a kind of lingua franca by which people using all sorts of programs can easily share and exchange files. In my case, this ability is vital for my work, I couldn’t live without it, and I bet a lot of other people are in the same boat. So in that particular sense, if no other, even if Office weren’t installed on my Mac at all (which I could easily imagine), for me it remains an important suite of programs.

  2. Andrew says:

    I live in Office on my Macs and all of those in my office. As an attorney, I am constantly exchanging briefs and motions in .docx format in a style called pleading paper. Pleading paper’s most difficult formatting element is a vertical ruler that must register with the lines of body text, though there also some other formatting elements that are rather complex.

    I’ve found that no matter what program I import or export pleading paper with, that vertical ruler is always broken. For that reason alone I must use real MS Word on my Macs, and would be forced to switch to Windows were MS Word no longer an option.

    A small minority of attorneys still use WordPerfect, and for compatibility with them I must maintain a WordPerfect license and install (on a Parallels VM). Using the VM route is fine for the highly infrequent WP documents I work with, but for Word it would not be a viable option.

    As for Outlook, I do use Exchange for my email and find Outlook to be far superior to Mail in its handling of Exchange accounts.

    Of course I am not all that worried about Office 2013 for Windows not having a Mac counterpart as the Mac version is always a year or so behind the Windows version. I am sure that Office 2014 for Mac will come into line with Mountain Lion and Lion’s new features.

  3. Tim says:

    To clarify, “Save As . . .” is NOT returned in Mountain Lion! Read this and test it for yourself:

    I did a simple test with TextEdit. Created a document and typed “a.” Labeled the file “a.” Closed it and re-opened it, then typed “aa” and used “Save As . . .” to create a document I named “aa.”

    Now, the traditional “Save As . . .” would have left the original “a” document alone. But when I re-opened “a,” it now said “aa” just as with the “Save As . . .” version.

    That is NOT “Save As . . .” and people need to know because they may well have screwed up a bunch of documents, thinking that all was well. All is not well.

  4. Richard says:

    I will repeat a conversation I had with an Apple rep regarding the shortcomings of Mail, most especially in the areas of scheduling, notifications and so on…he said “it sounds like you need MS Office”.

    Although that should end the conversation, I will also simply observe that most of Apple’s efforts in the area of Office replacements have been almost good enough. That does not cut it in the professional environment. Even outside the professional environment there have been distinct limitations and occasional compatibility issues.

    • @Richard, Sounds as if Apple will only add so many features to Mail, and leave the rest to Microsoft. Part of an agreement to ensure future upgrades to Office on the Mac? Just a conspiracy theory, without proof, but you wonder.


  5. Richard says:


    I would not worry about a grand conspiracy. I think it simply good business sense to stay on good terms with MS. There are a great may people who purchase Macs whose first question is “Can I run Office?” After they are told yes, the sale is rung up. MS Office continues to be an important application for the Mac.


  6. Ron says:

    I am retired. Had to always use real MS products (under Parallels) when working. Currently using MS Office 2011 for the Mac only for those times I need to. Would prefer to use iWorks but it is up to Apple when they decide to get off their a** and update the programs to really compete with MS. Just today decided to remove Parallels and now only have Office 2011 for the Mac for those few times required – but would like to drop it too. Totally understand why the business community have to have Office. But maybe, just maybe the younger gens will help to change this.

  7. theLedger says:

    Apple isn’t interested in competing head to head with Microsoft Office. I only use Office for work and iWork for everything personal.

    If you think about it, Apple has wisely resisted the bloatware that Microsoft Office has become, increasing the set of features that most users never use.

    On the other hand, maybe Apple is looking to re-define the productivity suite paradigm and that takes several years to work through a complete re think.

  8. Michael says:

    Being in a mixed Windows, Mac, and iOS environment, iWork just isn’t compatible with Office file formats. The more heavily formatted a document is, the more iWork screws it up. Tables, headers, and footers all get moved around in the conversion from Word to Pages, and even worse moving back again. If you want to share a file with another device, Pages and Numbers for iOS are almost useless. You have to email files back and forth because iCloud never seems to update and iWork won’t work with Dropbox. I’ve had the best luck using .docx and .xlsx formats with Dropbox and Docs2Go on my iPad and iPhone. Docs2Go is amazing in that it won’t change object attributes it doesn’t support but will allow you to change text and cell values, and supports direct saving back to Dropbox. I can update an inventory spreadsheet in the field, then just refresh pivot tables and charts and I’m done.

  9. Andrew says:


    Its not any particular feature in Exchange, as I have long ago moved out of Exchange as my primary calendar and contact platform (I now use DayLite for that), but that I still prefer to host my own email server, and as I already own and have Exchange, I still use it. It is, for my purposes, more like IMAP on steroids, with far faster and more reliable archiving and the same server-side sync that maintains all email across all platforms and clients. I use Windows Small Business Server Standard 2011, which also provides my VPN, Intranet and Active Directory, though Exchange email remains the star feature.

    I tried moving to Leopard Server five-years-ago and again to Lion Server last year, but the email server functions are far more difficult to configure to an existing domain than Small Business Server, which I’ve used since 2007 (version 2003) through version 2008 (upgraded to new server in 2009 and now 2011, which I installed myself on the existing 2009-model Dell server. When I replace that server sometime around 2013 or 2014 I will again look at all email options, but for this cycle, Exchange is still the best fit for my business.

  10. Andrew says:


    Also, its not than any specific feature in Exchange isn’t support, though many aren’t, but that Mail returns sync errors and is just slow to sync, while Outlook is fast and reliable with Exchange accounts.

  11. Jeff says:

    My biggest complaint about Outlook for Mac is the lack of integration with LiveMeeting. I frequently schedule work meetings using LiveMeeting, and they (usually) propagate and update fine in the Windows version of Outlook, but they disappear when I try to view my Outlook calendar either on my Mac or the sync’d version in iOS. I’m also unable to host meetings using a Mac because the web version of LiveMeeting doesn’t support audio.

    As a workaround, I’ve had to install Windows in Parallels and boot that up in order to view my accurate calendar in the Windows version of Office, with the proper LiveMeeting integration.

    Really, how hard would it be for Microsoft to roll out a Mac version of the LiveMeeting app?

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