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Did you know that Microsoft Office was released for Mac before Windows PCs? This now-ubiquitous software has been around since 1989, and is still going strong today as one of the most popular choices for an office suite.

There have traditionally been both good and bad differences between the Windows and Mac versions, so we were wondering if this was still true today.

Let’s take a look at how Office for Mac it compares to its Windows cousin, among other OS X office suites.

Compatibility

Since the introduction of the Open Office XML document formats (namely .docx, .xlsx, .pptx, among others), compatibility between Mac and Windows versions has been excellent. The new document formats usher in an emphasized importance on document standards (although Microsoft still isn’t willing to move over to the OpenDocument formats).

This is really good news since most documents that circulate now use one of these formats. Therefore, you should see absolutely no difference when using either version of Office. There may be very small differences when using the older formats, primarily because they aren’t looking for maximum compatibility through strict standards.

Interface and Features

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Although the current version of Office for Mac is two years older than the current version available for Windows, there aren’t really many differences between the two.

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Office 2011 for Mac has the same ribbon interface that Office 2013 for Windows uses, and this is probably because the ribbon interface hasn’t changed much since being introduced with Office 2010.

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When comparing both versions, there really isn’t a lot of difference. The layout may be different but virtually all of the included functions are available in both versions, as long as you can find it.

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I do have to admit though that the interface in Office for Mac 2011 is somewhat clunkier than its newer Windows counterpart:

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In the Windows version, there are only a few shortcut buttons in the top left corner, within the “title bar” area, besides the ribbon tabs and respective buttons.

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On a Mac, you have the title bar, menu options, a longer list of shortcut buttons, and then the ribbon tabs and respective buttons.

I really hope that Microsoft considers cleaning this up in their next release. At least there’s one advantage to the Mac interface that the Windows version doesn’t have: a dedicated “search in document” box where you can easily search for something specific in your document.

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Although not part of the traditional set of apps under the “Office” brand, the recently released OneNote app gives a hopeful preview for future interface improvements. As you can see above, the interface is much cleaner.

There are a few differences in functionality between the two versions. You can’t use ActiveX in the Mac version (as ActiveX is a Windows-only technology, albeit an unsafe one) nor use OpenDocument formats such as .ODT, commonly used by LibreOffice and similar open source editors. Support for right-to-left languages is also absent.

Outlook specifically does not support CalDAV or CardDAV, nor does it allow Cached Exchange Mode to be disabled. If you receive Rich-Text Format files from users of Outlook for Windows, you won’t be able to open them as they’re saved as winmail.dat.

Most other things should be possible, though there may be a different route to get where you want. Careful use of the Help menu will be very important if you’re jumping ship to the OS X version.

It’s been a while since there’s been a major update to the office suite since its release in 2011, although the absolute latest point release came out over 3 months ago. However, there are rumors going around that Microsoft is set to announce a new version of Office for Mac – but we’ll just have to wait and see what Redmond’s next move is.

Cost and Product Availability

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So there really isn’t much difference between versions, but what about the cost? If you subscribe to Microsoft’s newer Office 365 subscription (which includes 5 PCs for $9.99/month), you’ll be able to install Office on as many computers as you’re allowed to – and that doesn’t matter whether it’s a PC or Mac. Unfortunately it’s not quite that straightforward though.

While you’re paying the same to get Office for Mac, you’re not getting the same. For Mac, you only get Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. There’s no Access or Publisher. This could be a problem if you depend on those apps, or if you happened to pay for a higher tier of Office.

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Besides the Office 365 subscription-based offering, you can also buy the more traditional (DVD) bundles. These bundles are one-time purchases of just one version. You can receive updates for that version, but you’re out of luck when a new version comes out. Home & Student which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can be had for $139.99. Home & Office, which adds Outlook, can be had for $219.99. The benefit to these bundles is that you make a one-time purchase and won’t have to continually pay, but the downside to this is that you’ll need to pay for every upgrade.

Again, there’s no Access or Publisher. Unlike the PC version, you also can’t enjoy the flexibility of buying apps “a la carte”. At least you’re not missing out, because each app costs a whopping $109.99 when purchased this way.

What about OneNote? Historically it hasn’t been available for Mac, but it was recently released (March 17 to be exact) as a free app that you can download from the Mac App Store.

Compared to iWork

New Apple computers come with iWork preinstalled. This means that besides iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand, you also get Pages (which is a decent document editor Pages 5.0 for Mac Includes Smart Inspector Panel, But Less Features Pages 5.0 for Mac Includes Smart Inspector Panel, But Less Features There are plenty of lightweight and easy-to-use text editors for Mac users, but for projects requiring desktop publishing features, Apple's recently overhauled Pages is still a good solution. Read More ), Numbers, and Keynote — the equivalents to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These programs are also pretty good at creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and you may even be inclined to use it because you didn’t have to pay any extra to get them.

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Pages, Numbers, and Keynote come with pretty good support for the Microsoft formats. I didn’t have any problems opening or saving to these formats, although there was one document that rendered slightly differently due to custom indentations in a numbered list.

Users with an Apple ID can access web versions of these apps from iCloud, in the same you can access web versions of Office apps in OneDrive.

Alternatives

There are a few alternatives to both Office and iWork. If you’re looking for a cloud solution, Google Drive is always there. If you’re looking for other Mac apps, try using Bean, a lightweight word processor Bean - The Best Lightweight Word Processor For Macs Bean - The Best Lightweight Word Processor For Macs Try out a simple word processor for Mac. Maybe you're unwilling to fork out the funds for Apple's Pages or Microsoft's Word. Maybe you're looking for something lightweight and speedy? Or maybe you just like... Read More , or iA Writer, an unknown but great word processor iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used Be it a school paper or a blog post, all of us at some point find ourselves in the position of having to dump a bunch of characters into a text file. While cell phone... Read More , which is available for iOS as well.

Conclusion

So there you have it: Office for Mac is pretty darn close to its Windows cousin. While I certainly hope that the interface gets prettier with the next release, it at least supports all of the same features and tries to look as similar as possible to Office for Windows.

If you were set on Office and just wanted to make sure that it didn’t suck – it doesn’t.

What do you think about Office for Mac? What could it improve on? Will 2014 see a new version? Add your thoughts in the comments!

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