It’s easy to leave Windows behind. Just buy a Mac, take a couple of days to settle in and never look back. But for Microsoft Office users, the need to buy Office for Mac again can be a hassle.
If you work in the traditional office environment that runs on Excel and Word, you might have to bite the bullet. But if you’ve outgrown that world and still need to edit and send Office documents every now and then there are alternative options.
If you’re not ready to buy MS Office for Mac or run your old Windows apps using a VM, these are your best alternatives.
1. Google Suite
If you’re going to let go of the Microsoft world, your best bet is to join the Google alliance. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are the three alternatives to Office, Excel, and PowerPoint. There’s no real alternative to Outlook beyond Gmail, and you can get OneNote on the Mac for free.
Google’s suite is really quite good. It integrates well if you already have a Google account. You’ll be able to add and open an Excel file you received via Gmail in Google Sheets by pressing a button.
You can easily import Office files to work on them, export them once again in Office formats to pass them around. And if what you’re doing is fairly basic, and you use fonts and formatting that’s standard these days, you can get away with it. The other party will never find out that you’re not using full-fat Office.
In some ways, Google Docs is more powerful than MS Word. There’s an extensive add-on gallery, beautiful templates, there are superior research tools built-in and then there’s Google search capabilities.
Plus, there’s the advantage of Google’s cloud prowess. Collaborating with multiple users simultaneously in a document is a pure joy. It’s a little thing but it does wonders for productivity.
The entire suite is free and you get 15 GB of storage for free as well. The only problem is that there’s no real desktop app for any of these (you can work offline on documents in Chrome, using the Offline mode). Accompanying apps for iPhone and iPad are quite good as well.
LibreOffice is widely recognized as the best open source alternative to MS Office suite, which means it’s completely free and available on a whole host of platforms.
If you’re used to the MS Office user interface (pre-ribbon era), it won’t take you long to adjust to LibreOffice. Unlike Google’s apps, LibreOffice suite comes with fully featured offline desktop apps with all the pro features you expect.
To make the deal even sweeter, LibreOffice recently added an online component. So you can sync files from Google Drive or OneDrive and edit then right in LibreOffice (there’s no collaboration feature, though).
LibreOffice also does a good job in regards to formatting when importing Office documents. Even complex Excel spreadsheets (like mortgage calculators) imported in LibreOffice Calc work like they should.
LibreOffice actually grew out of OpenOffice, which used to be the de facto alternative to MS Office. But OpenOffice hasn’t seen any meaningful updates recently and the management is considering retiring the project. So we advise you to stay away from OpenOffice. LibreOffice’s track record in the recent past has been great.
3. iWork Suite
You’ve got a new Mac and it’s likely you’re never going back to Windows. Included with your Mac was the iWork Suite: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. These are Apple’s own alternatives to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
As these are Mac apps, the UI is quite different. Instead of being top heavy, the options show up in a contextual menu on the side. And you just won’t have as many options as the MS Office suite. All three apps are now quite mature and all the basics are covered.
Once you get used to them, they’re actually a joy to use (something I can’t necessarily say about MS Office). While customization options are limited, everything that’s available is quite polished. When you create a presentation in Keynote, chances are you’ll end up creating something beautiful. The same goes with Pages, and moving text, images, and graphs around is a seamless experience that doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out.
The iWork Suite lets you import and export documents in MS Office formats (it will save to the default iWork format, though). And as long as you don’t use a Mac specific font, doing a back-and-forth with Office documents shouldn’t be a big problem.
iWork also has online collaboration options but frankly, I wouldn’t recommend using them. They’re nowhere near as reliable as Google’s offering.
Quip isn’t a fully featured alternative to MS Office. But if you were never comfortable with Word or Excel, Quip’s minimal approach to document editing might just be for you. It’s what I personally use as a Word alternative.
In Quip, there are no ugly, complicated menus to worry about. Formatting happens using shortcodes (kind of like Markdown, but not entirely). A formatting bar shows up when you select text. Common shortcuts are also supported.
Quip also shines when it comes to collaboration. While it’s not as feature rich as Google Docs, Quip’s multi-user editing and comment features are still quite good. Quip’s iOS app lets you edit documents on the go. Quip’s default themes will help you generate beautiful PDF documents.
When nothing else will do, just open Office.com. Office Online is Microsoft’s free and basic MS Office service that works online. While the feature set is limited, the basics of document editing, spreadsheet formulas, and presentation options are all covered. You’ll get access to MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
6. Edit Office Documents in Dropbox
Dropbox’s partnership with Microsoft means you can open a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document shared with you on Dropbox. You don’t need an Office 365 license but you’ll require a free Microsoft account.
7. Ditch PowerPoint for Better Online Tools
- Slides — This is my personal favorite for creating beautiful presentations easily. The free account lets you create and present documents online. To export, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid account.
- Prezi — This service is geared more towards startups but the visual tools offered by Prezi are beyond anything you can get with PowerPoint.
- Canva — Canva is an online image editor but it has an extensive library of presentation templates. Plus, Canva gives you all the important tools for creating a customized presentation.
8. Embrace Markdown
Here’s an idea purely out of left field. You’ve given up Windows and embraced the Mac. You must have started appreciating macOS’s simplicity by now. If you want more of that for creating and editing plain text documents, you should try using Markdown.
Markdown is a syntax, like HTML but much simpler. When you use a Markdown app to write, there are no 25 menu options. All the formatting happens using shortcodes. So for example, to make a word italic, you wrap it around with asterisks. You can create a complex formatted document without ever lifting your finger from the keyboard. Plus Markdown exports clean HTML and you can generate beautiful PDFs using apps like Ulysses.
If You Must, Stick With MS Office 2016
Microsoft’s Office 2016 update for Mac was a significant one. There’s UI and feature parity with the Windows version. If none of the above alternatives work out for you (I would again suggest you give LibreOffice a good hard look), you might have to drop $229.99 for an Office 2016 license for the Mac (or a $9.99 per month subscription).
How do you use Office documents on your Mac? What kind of productivity features you just can’t live without? Share with us in the comments below.