Competition is a good thing. Does Microsoft Office for Mac have any real competition?
How much would you pay for a serious Office competitor? Is anything on the Mac as good as Microsoft’s Office?
First, let me say that I love using Microsoft Office. I’ve said it for years. My business lives on Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and especially Mac Entourage.
I use Office for Mac because it’s good, it works, it’s compatible, it’s affordable. Even though it’s a bit long in the tooth, Office for Mac may be the best piece of desktop software Microsoft ever shipped.
Second, that said, I recognize the need for competitive products, especially in a space as lucrative as the office suite, and I’m open to something new, different, even better, and I agree that not everyone needs all the features in Office.
Whew. That was all one sentence. Sentences and paragraphs are so much easier in Microsoft Word.
Third, money matters. Not everyone can afford Microsoft Office for Mac, and the alternative suites may represent a significant dollar savings. Office 2004 for Mac retails for $399 at the Apple Store.
Of course, you can get Office 2004 for a mere $149 with the Student and Teacher Edition. It’s short a few features but not $250 worth. You can buy it even if you’re not a student or a teacher, but don’t tell anyone that I told you.
The only shortcoming of the Student and Teacher Edition is that you cannot upgrade when Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac hits the streets, reportedly sometime early this century.
Office 2004 for Mac packs a hefty punch of features that no other office-like suite matches. NeoOffice is close and you get more than you pay for since the price is free.
The word processor is generally compatible with Microsoft Word, though more complex Word documents will break in NeoOffice. The spreadsheet is generally compatible with Excel, though the same problem with complex documents exists.
NeoOffice is a Mac-like version of OpenOffice, the Open Software Office competitor. Both suffer from Kitchen Sink Syndrome™ and try to do too much to be worthy.
If you can’t afford the $150 price tag of Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac, Student and Teacher Edition, then what are your choices? Do you get what you pay for when you go for free?
The answer is a simple “yes and no.” Sorry. Your mileage may vary, so it really depends upon your needs, your pocketbook, and how much compatibility you need with Microsoft Office for Windows documents. If you need 100-percent compatibility, you’ll only get that with Microsoft Office. Suffer the expense.
If you don’t need full compatibility, then other alternatives may be very attractive, though not as compelling or complete. For example, Office 2004 for Mac comes with Entourage, a superbly crafted email, to-do, project manager tool. None of the free or low cost versions have anything to compare.
Microsoft says the postponed Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac won’t actually show up until, well, at least 2008. The old 2004 version runs OK on new Intel Macs but doesn’t have full file compatibility with the new version.
What’s left? Besides Apple’s updated iWork ‘08, which I find reasonably compatible with Office 2004 for Mac, and very compelling from an ease-of-use perspective, there’s not much.
NeoOffice is decent but somewhat buggy, though much more Mac-like than OpenOffice.
New on the Mac scene is MacOffice Professional, a $47.95 DVD-ROM package of applications designed to compete with Microsoft. Features are virtually identical to NeoOffice and OpenOffice.
Indeed, the package looks more like the other suites with a new logo and slicker packaging on the web site—thought not that much slicker.
The Details page lists basic features of each component, starting with the word processor. There are Wizards, AutoCorrect, Word document compatibility, and multiple file formats.
The spreadsheet component can pull in raw data from other sources, and claims to read and write Excel documents.
The presentation module attempts to emulate PowerPoint and will read and write most PPT documents, and even create Flash versions of your presentations.
What’s not to like? Unlike Microsoft Office for the Mac, MacOffice Pro has a database module that lets you create and modify tables, forms, queries, reports, and comes with Design Views, SQL Views, and Wizards.
As with the other Mac office suites, there’s also a built-in graphics component that’s more capable than the limited graphics in Microsoft Office or iWork.
A feature-by-feature comparison is difficult, but suffice it to say that all the suites have more than Apple’s updated iWork ‘08. Therein lies the difference. Approach.
Microsoft Office is a highly refined, polished, feature-laden, and ultra compatible office suite. That’s the high end of the scale, price not withstanding. The low end of the scale are the feature-laden, unpolished, rough-edged office suites—MacOffice, OpenOffice, NeoOffice, all of which actually provide more than Microsoft, though stability and compatibility are not complete.
In the middle is the $79 iWork ‘08 package from Apple. I’ve been using iWork for two weeks. If you don’t require full Microsoft Office compatibility, you are likely to be pleased because iWork does what none of the competitors can do, including Microsoft’s Office—offer polished, attractive document creation with a very small learning curve.
iWork is just plain easy, truly the office suite for the rest of us. Keynote is, by some reviewers, better than PowerPoint. Pages, the word processor, is not Word any more than iWork ‘08 is an Office Killer. But it does read and write most Word documents quite well, and it is the easiest to use of all the suite word processors.
That brings me to iWork’s spreadsheet, Numbers. Excel is the business standard, so don’t expect Numbers to be an Apple version of Excel. It’s not. So far, I’ve had Numbers break half a dozen of the 40 or so Excel spreadsheets I through at it. But, to be fair, those spreadsheets were complicated documents, not the typical business spreadsheet.
If you need complicated, you need Excel. If you need a spreadsheet that works and one you can build yourself, try Numbers.
Combined with OS X’s Mail, AddressBook, and iCal, iWork makes your Mac more of an Office than any of the lower priced products.
In summary, if money isn’t an issue and compatibility is, go with Microsoft Office for Mac (whatever version you choose; the currently shipping version, or the one that’s due to ship sometime this century).
If money and some compatibility is the ongoing set of issues, NeoOffice is a good alternative, especially considering the price tag. If you don’t mind spending $50, MacOffice Pro pretty much gives you everything you’d get from NeoOffice for free, plus a bunch of clip art and some support.
As to iWork ‘08, think different. It is NOT an Office killer. iWork’s components do what they do better than anything else available for a similar price tag.
From everything I can see and read, MacOffice Professional is just a re-branded version of NeoOffice, but without a fine print paragraph that tells you so.