The Disappointing Differences in Microsoft Office for Mac

The first time I realized that Microsoft Office for Mac was different, I was waist-deep in a complicated Excel table. I knew that there must be some clever way to solve my data dilemma, so I googled a solution. And I found one, right away, only to discover that, mystifyingly, the tool I needed simply didn’t exist. I had the right version of Excel, and the tool wasn’t just somewhere else… it was simply gone. This disappointing difference was the first of many changes, some small and some big, between Microsoft Office for Windows and Microsoft Office for Mac.

A number of applications are simply missing from Microsoft Office for Mac.

Microsoft Publisher is a publishing app aimed at beginners and probably isn’t a huge loss for Mac users. There are tons of alternative desktop publishing applications for the platform. But if you have saved Microsoft Publisher files you were hoping to edit on your Mac, forget it.

Microsoft Access is a database management tool that’s a godsend for users stuck managing giant Excel “database” files. Unfortunately, Mac users will find no relief.

There are also a couple of office-style applications that you won’t find on Mac:

Visio, the diagramming and mapping software, and Project, the project management package. Considering these tools are in high demand by project managers, this might push you towards a Windows-only workflow.

Here’s a list of the major features you won’t find in Microsoft Office for Mac. It’s not guaranteed to cover everything, but it should hit in the highlights.

Office

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Visual Basic: Visual Basic and macro support does exist on the Mac. However, some functions are missing, and the implementation is not as fully-featured as the Windows version. Code that works in Windows might not work in macOS.

SharePoint Support: SharePoint is used for sharing files and distributing data in corporate environments. Office for Mac does include support for SharePoint, but some features are missing.

Accessibility Checker: Checks your document for formatting or content that might make it difficult to read for users with disabilities. If you have government-mandated reporting styles, or your organization cares about accessibility, this can be a great help.

Office Roaming: Windows users can connect to a streaming copy of Office on a PC for temporary use.

ODF/XPF File Formats: These formats aren’t supported on the Mac.

Right-to-left Language Support: Hebrew and Arabic text direction is not supported.

ActiveX: You might be most familiar with these macro-style document plugins as security risks. They also allow for significant programming within the Office environment.

Document Inspector: Scans for hidden data and personal data in documents, helping you stay safe when sharing files.

Word

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Embed Fonts: When sharing documents on Word for Windows, you can embed custom fonts to display with your document. macOS users instead must save PDFs which don’t allow users to easily edit them.

Booklet Printing: Printing for booklet binding is not available in Office for Mac.

Blog Publishing: This might be an underused feature on any platform, but you won’t find it on your Mac.

Built-in Screenshots: Word for Windows includes a built-in screenshot tool which can automatically take screenshots and insert them into your document.

Smart Lookup: This tool searches through Bing for the selected text. It’s useful for quickly defining a term or acronym you’re not familiar with.

Digital Ink: This digital drawing and annotation tool won’t be found on the Mac version of Word.

Open and Repair: Office for Mac can try to open damaged files, but it won’t do as much to fix them as Windows’ Open and Repair.

Excel

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PivotCharts: These charts work with PivotTables, visual information created by your new layouts to reveal patterns.

PowerPivot: This ultra-powerful add-in version of PivotTables isn’t available on the Mac.

Built-in Database Connectivity: Mac Excel cannot sync with data from external databases. Some data can be imported from external sources, but updated sync is not possible.

Customized shortcuts: You can’t assign your own keyboard shortcuts in Excel for Mac. All the modifiers are different, too, so have fun with that muscle memory.

As you can see from the pricing chart below, the cost of Microsoft Office for both Windows and macOS is the same. Basically, for Mac users, you are paying the same price for a product with less features. I am sure this can be frustrating for many.

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These missing features will almost certainly not be added to Office for Mac in the future. The operating systems have essentially two different, parallel versions, with different features and development tracks.

If you’re missing features that you simply must have, you can install Parallels to run Office in its intended environment. You can also install Boot Camp on your Mac to boot into a full version of Windows. As long as you install Word on just one of the OSes, you shouldn’t exceed a single software license. Multi-license users can install it on both operating systems.

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