Microsoft Office for Mac: Is It Any Different?

Danny Stieben 02-04-2014

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.


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

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.


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.

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.


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


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.

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.

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

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.

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 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.

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.


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 Mac 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 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.


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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  1. Phil Jones
    March 25, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    This may be sacrilege a Mac user respond on PC Forum But it's a one time comment.

    Whatever differences There are are solely based on Microsoft. The only thing that Apple Doesn't allow is Active-X. Which apple tested and found impossible even in todays climate to make safe back in the 1990's. What a lot of PC only people don't realize is your favorite Office apps actually go their start first on Mac. Mr Gates bought the code and rights to what are now Word, Excel, and PowerPoint from struggling authors for peanuts on the dollar. They were originally design for the Mac (of course then we were talking about C, C+, C++, and Objective Code run on Motorola 680XX series chips. So Microsoft Works, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint came to Mac first. Mac people being a daring lot were willing to test and purchase Office apps, even if they risked destroying their Hard Drives. Finally when all the kinks were worked out, They came out on PC. (Each program coming out two years before being adopted on PC.) So Microsoft more or less abandoned Mac Users and did little innovation on Mac and concentrated on PC adding feature Mac users would loved to have had.

    Naturally if you have to keep up apps for two platforms, it takes Money for the proper Talent to be able to code in both versions. Something Microsoft is not known for.

    So if PC to Mac converts (due to all the Malware that has plagued Microsoft from the get go) are disappointed, don't blame Apple for everything, Look to Microsoft. There is where the sticking point is. A Combination of emphasizing making money at all cost to give officers and company BOD's, cause Bean Counters to allocate funds based on number of Users. As a result of this Microsoft went from Number one for Years to Third Place. For Several Years Apple has been the most profitable Soft and Hardware computer Company on the planet. And software wise Microsoft has been number two. However, last summer, Apple fell from First to second, but Microsoft at the same time dropped to third.

    Since OSX is Primarily a unix Based system (FreeBSD UNIX). If Microsoft were to change to UNIX Then they could get away with using one Code base save themselves tons of money and be able to achieve exact parity between the two platforms. And perhaps Stop Malware developers in their tracks.

    So take it or leave it. Now you now know the true cause of the disparity between Microsoft and Mac Office Packages.

  2. MacVBA-4TheWin
    January 8, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Really?? Office 2011 on Mac for me has been more of a problem than anything else. The functionality of VBA on Mac is barely the same as on Windows if you can even call it functional. Numerous functions aren't included. Cross-Referencing from Excel to Word (and the other way around) is barely possible, if you don't have it all in one module. In Excel ActiveDocument is known but can not be used (Object Library is activated). I've been working for 2 months on a template for invoices which should have been easily connected with a sql-database... But in Word odbc isn't even supported. When I finally got it working on Excel, I realized there is no (easy) way to get and paste data from/to excel as you can't reference to a non-saved but opened Word-Document. So the hell it is the same or as you said "Office for Mac is pretty darn close to its Windows cousin." It ain't. And the support especially for VBA is barely existing. With the macros that work on windows, you'd have most problems on Mac. It's horrible actually and I'm getting more and more desperate to find a way to make it work...

  3. Tom
    December 24, 2015 at 10:20 am

    It doesn't include Access. You can't get Project and no VBA support. Even in Mac Office 2016 which supposedly has VBA, but my Excel macros won't run on it. Forget about the Mac it is the most unproductive platform on the planet.

  4. Mac Man
    May 4, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    MS Office on the Mac is does not allow you to integrate your contact calendar and data with the the other office applications. PC version would allow me to schedule an event, attach all relevant files into the outlook appointment, When you prepare for a meeting you have quick visual access to all your information. The PC Outlook simply provides the interoperability
    Within the Office suite more efficiently than anything I have
    found. I don't like the 365 as well as having the suite on my laptop. Whenever there is an opportunity for connectivity to spoil my party...........

  5. David Price
    March 18, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Office is not the same on a Mac as it is on a Windows PC. For starters, Word for Mac does not have content controls, something i use extensively in Windows. Also you can not edit theme fonts and colours on a Mac. One thing that the Mac does support though is CMYK colors.

    • Anonymous
      October 14, 2015 at 5:50 pm

      Thank god I found this post. Office for mac not having the ability to edit theme fonts and colors was driving me insane. How is this something that gets left out? You can literally save themes but not create them! I can now stop banking my head on the keyboard. Thanks.

  6. Anonymous
    March 14, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    Great article ---thanks!

  7. Russell Smith
    April 29, 2014 at 6:30 am

    On the basis of features, MS Office seems similar for both platform i.e. Mac and Windows.

  8. Samuel A
    April 10, 2014 at 9:45 am

    I've been using the 'Windows' Office version since I can remember, and I do feel that jumping into the Mac version can be difficult for some people. Options are usually located in places with similar names, but the interface organization is different in both options.
    In the Mac version, in addition to the options visible in the interface, you also have a lot of embedded options through the taskbar on top, which doesn't occur in the same way with the Windows version.

  9. Sunsetsword
    April 3, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Something about the look and feel of Office for Mac has always seemed to scream, "avoid me!", but maybe times are changing?

    • Lisa
      April 3, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Maybe times are changing now that MSFT seems to want in on the Mac market. Not sure what you mean by workflow - it seems to be all there, but then you run into little things. To Dels' point above, interoperability across platforms (.oml vs .pst) will be an issue. I rely on Outlook on Windows at work for everything, but at home on the Mac, I use the web interface. Burned once is enough.

  10. Dels
    April 3, 2014 at 3:01 am

    The worst things happen in MS Office for Mac is Outlook using .oml as their container not the standard .pst that been used since Outlook 2003 this make harder portability when dual booting OS

  11. Michail D
    April 2, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    LibreOffice (, a cross-platform fork by The Document Foundation, is also a very good alternative. I use both LibreOffice and iWorks (it depands on the project) and I'm very happy with both of them.

    • Sunsetsword
      April 3, 2014 at 10:08 am

      I was under the impression that LibreOffice and OpenOffice were two separate entities. Is that not true?

    • Michail Dim. Drakomathioulakis
      April 3, 2014 at 2:53 pm was an open source suite supported by Sun Microsystems. LibreOffice, Apache OpenOffice and NeoOffice, all three, are succesors of the original project, but they are independently developed. For more info, please read the relevant Wikipedia article: .

  12. Don F
    April 2, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    I use Outlook for scheduling and for contact management- the only use I have for Outlook on Mac is to check emails-which I can do on my phone - underwhelming

  13. Lisa
    April 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Btw, nothing wrong with Word, PowerPoint, or Excel that I've found. I use them interchangeably on my Mac at home and Windows PC at work and have never had a problem.

    • Sunsetsword
      April 3, 2014 at 10:09 am

      Do you find that the workflow is efficient on both? I've never been able to get used to the mac version, even though the features are essentially equivalent.

  14. Lisa
    April 2, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Outlook is brain-dead on Mac. It's the only reason we still run Windows - the wife needs it for her business. We migrated Outlook for Windows to Mac (oy what a mess), then after reorganizing everything found out it has about 2/3 of the functionality of Outlook on Windows. Lots of little things, but especially Contacts. We had to migrate back to Windows. Sad, really. It must be a very hard job to be the product manager at MSFT for Office on Mac.

  15. Bart
    April 2, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Don't forget about, Apache OpenOffice.