Is Microsoft Office on the Mac still important?
Rumor has it that Microsoft is on the cusp of releasing a new version of Office for Mac. It's been more than three years since the last version of Office came out. Things have changed a lot. Is Microsoft Office still important?
Since Office's last major release on the Mac, Apple made a major strategic move to trump Microsoft: It began to include productivity apps as part of the standard suite of software applications included on all new Macs and iOS devices. You used to have to buy iWork apps — Pages, Keynote and Numbers — separately, but now you get them for free.
Those three apps fill in the gaps for some users who need word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software capabilities. There are certainly some benefits, too, such as iCloud support and binary compatibility for documents, making it simple to edit files on your Mac and use them on your iPad, or vice versa.
Other options have emerged, too. Free software alternatives to Office like LibreOffice may still raise eyebrows, but Google has normalized many people to using Google Docs for their productivity software and collaboration needs, for example.
iWork is good, but it's not that good. As I said back in February, 'Almost' isn't good enough. Despite the advances that Apple has made, Microsoft Office still reigns supreme in corporate environments and elsewhere. Many businesses and institutions continue to rely on Office as their standard.
Like most alternative productivity suites, iWork apps try to be good corporate citizens, offering Office file compatibility for import and export, but there's a difference between file compatibility and native file support, and many users of iWork apps and other tools have run into issues with documents just not looking right when they're translated into Office formats.
As I said at the outset, Apple has changed, but so has Microsoft. Much of their focus has been to make Office a subscription-based service rather than a monolithic software suite that gets updated once every few years.
You can still buy Office in a single user version. But Microsoft is following Adobe's Creative Cloud lead, offering an annual subscription with the promise of regular updates, along with other benefits, such as the ability to share one subscription with multiple devices, a free OneDrive cloud service account with 20 GB of storage, free Skype world minutes and more.
Of course, a new version of Office for Mac is only one tantalizing piece of the puzzle. The other is a version of Office that will run on iPads. Microsoft expert Mary Jo Foley suggested in February that an iPad version is coming sooner than people think, perhaps some time in the first half of 2014. A well-integrated Mac and iPad Microsoft Office ecosystem would certainly be fierce competition for Apple, which is still in a rebuilding year after gutting the iWork apps to get them to work more seamlessly across iOS and OS X.
Another piece of the puzzle: Microsoft may bring OneNote to the Mac in the next few weeks. Microsoft's note-taking app is a decade old, but it's not available in Mac native form, leaving the market wide open for competitors like Evernote to dominate.
Office remains one of the best selling software packages for the Mac. Lots of Mac users depend on Office to get their work done, and that's unlikely to change. Office is still front and center for many in the corporate and institutional worlds.
The combination of a new version of Microsoft Office for Mac, Office for iPad and OneNote for Mac suggests that Microsoft still thinks that Apple's platforms are still fertile ground. Even if you don't like Microsoft's products, you have to admit that the company's continued support is a net positive: It makes it easier to justify using Macs and iOS devices in enterprise and reduces friction for users who want to effortlessly produce documents that their non-Apple using colleagues can work.
To answer my initial question, Microsoft Office's role has changed. It's no longer irreplaceable - fact is, there are a lot of options people can use if they want to produce word processing docs, spreadsheets and attractive presentations. But Office is still a vital and important tool for many of us, and that won't change.
Are you looking forward to a new version of Office for the Mac? Will you migrate to new Office apps for OS X and iOS? Let me know what you think in the comments.
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iWork may be nice to use but as powerful as Office? Be lucky if it gets as far as "Not even remotely close". Especially when it comes to Excel.
This same collection of hand-wringing happened when people started using Office instead of WordPerfect, 1-2-3, and Harvard Graphics back in the day. And the difference had nothing to do with robustness or capability, it had only to do with Windows 95 compatibility, which the non-Microsoft apps never really got, at least not soon enough. Office is not the end-all, just like those programs weren't.
1) Office is the de facto standard of business around the world because it was the first Office productivity suite available for both Windows and the Mac.
2) Most people learn how to do word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc., in Office as a result of the market penetration of Windows and, believe-it-or-not, two very shrewd marketing/licensing practices on Microsoft's part: highly-discounted Education pricing, and business licensing which allowed employees to install a copy of Office on their home/personal computer. These two things encouraged people to take what they used in college into their career settings (which happened a lot as was my experience in IT), and/or take Office home with them, which had the additional benefit of them taking Office with them into subsequent jobs where employers had not settled on a standard. Now you asked exactly what Office does for me that iWork cannot do? The easiest answer it it allows me to seamlessly work with my document files whether I'm on one of my Windows computers, or one of my Macs, in an environment I've been familiar with for 20+ years, without having to relearn shortcuts, or where to find specific less-used features I need when I need them. Ultimately, those are the things that make an application robust and capable; that 20% of the feature-set you use as an individual, and how easy and comfortable their use is for you. So again, I will assert Office is still relevant on the Mac, and will be for many years to come.
I am a government contractor, and the government is 100% Office. I have submitted thousands of documents to them over the last eight years, and never got a single complaint about compatibility or anything else. They are split about evenly between word processing documents and spreadsheets. I don't send them presentations, but I use them several times a month. I'm simply sick and tired of people telling me, a person who has actually done it for years, that iWork cannot substitute for Office. They don't realize the reverse is sometimes true, but the bottom line is they have no idea what they're talking about. Alas, one cannot stop them from spouting off here and elsewhere with no experience to base it on.
And you selling Office for Macs that come free with iWork, unfortunately, falls in that category. Please actually use it for real-world work first. That's all I ask.
But for many general consumer needs, and for many micro and small businesses, the other options easily fill the needs, and do so for free. Therefore MS Office is not as important to as many users as it once was.
That being said, I agree it will still be a big success on Mac and iOS, if it truly comes to iOS.
The new Numbers is pretty impressive. Numbers now translates Excel files that do not contain macros or ActiveX content really, really well. I suggest you try it - both exporting and importing.
More importantly to me, Numbers exports to Excel pretty much perfectly. So my workflow is this: Make documents in Numbers, Pages, and Keynote then export them to Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Excel documents come out perfect. Word documents usually come out perfect. PowerPoint documents need tweaking only if I used some custom shape with text inside it.
If Apple EVER creates compatibility with Excel macros, ActiveX, and the ability to generate custom cell formatting Numbers will, indeed, have a chance to supplant MS Office.
iWorks is my choice now.