Blog Post

Does Apple Still Need Microsoft Office?

MS_Office_2010_LogoOn August 6th, 1997, Steve Jobs stood on a stage in Boston and announced that Microsoft (s msft) had purchased $150 million in non-voting stock and promised to continue to develop Office for five years. While the crowd reacted as if had he announced his love of Pabst Blue Ribbon, it’s one of the moves that’s widely regarded as having helped Apple recover as a company.

Microsoft recently announced its plans for Office 2010 — although the scant details make me think this was really just a “No, no, don’t go use the Exchange features in Snow Leopard; we’ve got you covered” move. Which begs the question: Does Apple (s aapl) still need Office for the Mac, like they did 12 years ago?

No, of course not. They have iWork and online services like Google (s goog) Docs and Zoho. But I need it.

I can imagine myself staying in Apple’s Romper Room, only using iWork and iLife, only as long as I never, ever need to exchange files or collaborate with another person. Like it or not, Office and especially the .doc file structure has become the industry standard. The better I can adhere to that standard, without jumping through a ton of hoops, the easier my life is. Sure, I can print to PDF, but that’s hard to collaborate from.

That’s not to say I’m a slave to Microsoft. For simple layout I use Pages; Numbers is an acceptable spreadsheet; and Keynote is a totally kicking presentation program. When I write fiction, I use Scrivener. For my work at TheAppleBlog, I can use any sort of text editor I want. However, when I need to exchange files with other people — especially if I want them to make in-line comments or changes — I will default to the Office suite for the sake of simplicity, even for complicated files transfer without any noticeable issues between the PC and Mac versions of Word.

As much as I love hearing about Apple’s plans, and its commitment to OS X at keynotes, as a frequent user of Microsoft Office, in many ways I look forward to the affirmation that Office for the Mac’s development isn’t lagging too far behind its PC counterpart.

42 Responses to “Does Apple Still Need Microsoft Office?”

  1. Mark, you say “On the collaboration side, let’s focus on Pages. You can export and import (open) Word documents in Pages, no sweat. You can use the Export option in the File or Share menus, or simply choose that option when you save your document.”

    I used Pages to write a manuscript which includes line drawings at 300 dpi. Sending it via .pdf to the book printer has been a mess. The fonts are wrong, as is character spacing. I’ve had the same problem trying to upload it onto Kindle. Should I get Word or Office? If I can get the free trial of Office, I’d rather do that. But I don’t know enough about Office to understand whether it will give me the functionality of saving the document as a .doc that will recognize the formatting from Pages. My end goal is to be able to get the darn book to the printer and have it look the way it’s supposed to.

  2. I bought Office ’04 when I got my MacBook in ’07. It slowed my computer down like crazy. When iWork came out with Numbers I removed Office and haven’t used it since. I don’t like M$ products at all and pretty much refuse to use them. I do have one exception though, Xbox 360. But we are talking about computing needs not gaming needs.

  3. invinciblegavin

    Office is not a standard, nor are its file formats. Last September, the International Standards Organisation rejected Microsoft’s attempts to promote the Office Open XML (OOXML) format as standard. Office is dominant in the productivity realm, but that’s about it.

    iWork is a premier-class suite of productivity tools. It can read and write to Office formats like a lot of other applications can (OpenOffice, Star Office, NeoOffice, TextEdit) and does a good job at it. It must be said that there are very legal and technical reasons why iWork can’t do “exactly the same thing” as Office, and why would you want it to?

    Your comment “only as long as I never, ever need to exchange files or collaborate” is simply rhetoric, and illustrates how little you know about iWork. On the collaboration side, let’s focus on Pages. You can export and import (open) Word documents in Pages, no sweat. You can use the Export option in the File or Share menus, or simply choose that option when you save your document. If your recipient uses Word and you’d like to track changes in the document, just turn-on that feature! Check the Edit menu and select “Track Changes”. These comments and mark-up persist through conversion to .doc and back again.

    When not collaborating, there is simply no need to send a Word document to anyone. Once you have finished with your document, share it as a PDF. That way, anyone can read it. In the event that mark-up or collaboration is needed on a PDF, those tools exist in both Preview and Acrobat.

    Office is a nice thing to have when making the switch from Windows. Microsoft’s regard for Mac users is extremely low, and the quality of their flagship products for the Mac lack simplicity of iWork.

    Does Apple need Office? Does an end-user need Office? No, not at all.

    • Mark Crump

      ‘Your comment “only as long as I never, ever need to exchange files or collaborate” is simply rhetoric, and illustrates how little you know about iWork. On the collaboration side, let’s focus on Pages. You can export and import (open) Word documents in Pages, no sweat. You can use the Export option in the File or Share menus, or simply choose that option when you save your document. If your recipient uses Word and you’d like to track changes in the document, just turn-on that feature! Check the Edit menu and select “Track Changes”. These comments and mark-up persist through conversion to .doc and back again.”

      I use Pages quite a bit. Frankly, collaboration with a non-Pages using folks is horribly inefficient. Essentially, it’s importing and exporting a document since Pages uses its own file format.

      The documents I tend to work on are fairly complicated .doc files. To date, the ONLY program that has handled collaboration with Word users is Word. Open Office barfs on them. The formatting is completely screwed up.

      I’ve looked at ways to replace Word — trust me — but while it’s possible for the majority of people to use other solutions, none work for me.

  4. Gwenn Quirk

    Wow! This is the first time I’ve ever heard that a Mac user like me wants and needs to use Office(mostly Word). I use Apple’s own Pages and still use Appleworks for some work, but I too NEED to have Word to be able to communicate with other entities Hurry up Microsoft!

  5. Yes, so far, no one has out-officed Microsoft. By that, I mean, the monopoly mess they created is well managed. It’s very difficult, even with .DOCX to imitate all the shenanagans Microsoft pulls to keep everyone out of it’s favorite and very proprietary formats…. .doc(x) and .xls.

    Apple could do it, but would then get in a cat and mouse with MSFT, and MSFT holds most of the cards there with it’s PC monopoly and ability to indroduce compatibility issues for any theoretical Apple .doc .xls derivative. Apple is FINE with Microsoft being an APPLICATION vendor, but should continue to push them back in the OS arena, where they really compete.

    I think it’s WONDERFUL that Apple has managed to FORCE MICROSOFT to develop Outlook!

    That is beating Microosft at their own MONOPOLY game. The ONLY reason there is suddenly VAPORWARE about a REAL outlook client on the horizon is that Apple has built THEIR OWN version into the OS. Kudos for Apple! The Monopolists then have no choice but to suddenly offer an ‘official’ client (probably that again creates all sorts of problems for Microsoft’s supposed Mac ‘customers’ (more like victims).

    Right now, my iPod touch gets far better service from an exchange server than my Macs do. I look forward to that changing, thanks to Apple, not Microsoft. Thank you Apple!

  6. Apple is not good with standardization. Even iPods and iPhones don’t connect to the same set of third party devices, though they should be (musically) identical. This game of standards is one that Microsoft (as a business/enterprise solutions company) has been playing for a long time. Office is a part of that standard, and for Apple to get their foot in the business door, they need MS Office.

  7. Most consumers don’t need MS Office, as mentioned, because alternative programs from iWorks or OpenOffice provide everything that 90% of consumers will ever use. And those that feel they do need it should recognize that situation is a product of vendor lock-in based on targeted incompatibility and perpetuated by the MS monopoly. We’d all be much better off if more users avoided MS Office and created pressure for compatibility based on open standards.

    • Consumers yes, companies no. Many companies use and need the more advanced features of MS Office.
      Although I think Open Office could be a viable alternative. Actually more and more companies are switching to OO just because it’s open source.

      Personally I think MS Office has lost a lot of its usability over the years, by adding more and more features, button bars on top of each other. That’s why Pages is a sigh of relief which is sadly unavailable on the windows platform.

  8. I don’t have to deal with collaberative documents often – certainly not in the traditional way, my company has an internal wiki for that sort of stuff. For dealing with clients I use Pages/Numbers and send them PDFs. Office on Mac is horrible.

  9. While I’m perfectly fine with iWork, I find that many people find it difficult to use (mainly Pages). It probably has less to do with how good or not good Pages is, and more to do with UI familiarity. Pages definitely takes getting used to, even though they have made strides in implementing UI commonalities, like having a toolbar at the top of the word processing window.

    As far as needing MS Office for Mac, it’s still worth having around for compatibility purposes. Pages almost always has layout issues when it converts documents, so I generally rely on Word to open Word docs I get from clients. It’s also an affordable option as long as you get the Home/Student edition. That’s something I don’t feel bad about, even though I use it for business – mainly because I don’t use it for business per se, I use it for correctly viewing other people’s documents.

    For that and many, many other reasons, I think Apple still needs MS Office. Especially as it starts to infiltrate the corporate environment. Unless they turn Pages into a Word clone, most corporations will make MS Office on Mac a deal breaker if they can’t have it.

  10. Believe or not I find Office 2008 for Mac a much improved version than the PC one. I use Entourage for personal use and Word for the reasons everybody pointed out already. I also use Pages and the other iWork apps..all in all, I have choice, and this is what matters to me as a consumer and passionate software user..

  11. Gazoobee

    @ Paul: Pages supports “EndNotes”

    @ Adam Jackson: Pages 09 supports all Word style revisions and notes.

    I also write a great deal, but in reality the number of documents that require collaboration is very small indeed. Basically we are talking about papers going to and from either an Institution (University, College, etc.) or some monolithic business concern (the publisher). So while that’s a valid complaint and concern, it only is for a small number of users in a small number of cases.

    Most folks don’t need Word at all. They just think they do.

    Also, if Apple comes out with a useable tablet (total speculation at this point I know), it will have to have document editing software on it (i.e.- Pages). If that is true, then Pages will either have to get a lot closer to the Word format as Adam Jackson would like, or there will have to be an iWork suite for Windows. A bit of a fantasy at this stage, but given those events, iWork could drive Office off the edge of a cliff if that tablet takes off.

    • Please remember Numbers does not support pivot tables for those heavy excel users.

      I think it will make sense if Apple add this in there next upgrade for Numbers. Others excel will still be needed.

    • @andrew

      this is one of the few legitimate reasons to keep using MSOffice. Pivot tables are good for ease of use, but R is more powerful for all statistical analyses. Excel is still the only application I use quite regularly.

      I must say though, that Apple NEEDS MS Office. If not for many reasons outlined above, it needs it for pure choice.

      When I make killer presentations in Keynote, I sometimes have to fire up Powerpoint because certain arrows and characters are lacking in Keynote, so I just copy paste from PP.

      For compatibility issues, it is always better to have too many options than too few. Having MS Office, iWork, OOO, NeoOffice, and other text editors can save you in a pinch.

    • vanderbob

      Endnote support implementation is abysmal in Pages. Lack of proper referencing in Apple Apps forces everyone I know to continue to use MO. Yes, there are other solutions, but Endnote holds huge market advantage others. Once Apple fixes this, at least the Word side of MO is dead to thousands in academic research.
      OO and others – tried them all, unstable, unreliable, IU is awful. No go for me.

  12. Gazoobee

    I think the author is really over-beating that one dead horse of “collaborative compatibility.”

    iWork (Pages specifically) writes to an even *more* standard “standard” than Office. To wit: PDF.

    So when the author says this:

    “However, when I need to exchange files with other people — especially if I want them to make in-line comments or changes — I will default to the Office suite …”

    He really means *only* (when collaboration is an issue.) It’s really the only issue in the interoperability area that Pages has at all. It’s not “especially,” it’s “only” when collaborative documents are an issue and only when those other people are all using Word. Even then, Pages can import and export Word better than Word can read/write it’s own formats.

    I appreciate that the author uses different kinds of writing tools, but this is really overstating the one specific case where iWork is not the best choice.

    • Mark Crump

      For me, though, that number is quite large. And “collaboration” might be a strong word — most of my classes are online, and my teachers require a .doc file they can mark up and send back with comments.

      I’m a tech comms major, and once I start to get into complicated documents (ones with lots of figures, etc.), Pages becomes less and less of an option. Word handles captioning much better than Pages (which doesn’t). Being able to auto-number figures and tables, and create the required TOCs is a godsend.

      The areas I need Word, I *really* need it.

    • Gazoobee:

      You must not have a whole lot of experience in the corporate world – especially the Windows-heavy corporate world.

      I use Pages, Keynote and Numbers at home all the time. Love the simplicity. But I’ve tried to make it work cross-platform. It simply doesn’t.

      It’s too time consuming to have to “export” a document every time I want to save it on the server. The Keynote to PowerPoint conversion is virtually unusable – the docs don’t look or act like they do on the Mac when you open them in PPT on Windows. Both Word and Excel offer so many more features that don’t work in Pages it’s not even funny – simple annotations and notes don’t even convert correctly.

      iWork was created not to compete with MS Office, but provide a low-cost alternative to switchers and users who don’t need MS Office but want office-style apps. Even if Apple created a PC version of iWork, it would still be a fringe suite of apps.

  13. When I got iWork ’09 in January I was done with Microsoft Office and only time I deal with Microsoft Word documents is collaborating with someone with Word ’07 or Word ’03 either by or exporting Pages ’09 to Word documents. You can actually do with Office Suites like someone else stated online “Microsoft Office, is habit not a necessity.”

  14. How about if Apple eventually developed a PC version of iWork? They can produce a quality piece of software for the PC (Safari, iTunes, etc) so why not an affordable office suite competitor?

  15. I just bought Office 2008 cause it eases he exchange of documents with my coworkers and boss. iWork is a nice office suit, but the office import/export stuff is not good enough. OOo is okay, and has better import/export features then iWork has, but OOo is something I don’t get in touch with. So, I decided to buy Office 2008 and live with it.

  16. I’m with you, Apple may not need Office but a lot of Mac users do. When I was writing my book we wrote in and collaborated using Microsoft Word. I tried initially to use OpenOffice and even NeoOffice but neither product was able to read the “notes” and historical changes from the newer Microsoft Word document.

    I had to get Office 2008 for my Mac to be able to collaborate on the book. I actually liked it though, it has some really good features and was surprisingly fast and stable.

    I still use iWork ’09 for most of my page layout or presentation needs, but nothing beats good ‘ole Excel and Word for simple spreadsheet and word processing love.

  17. In a word, “Yes.” There are still far too many people who do not believe a system is useful unless it has MS Office, even though TextEdit is more then enough for them. It’s not a matter of ‘is there anything better/cheaper on the Mac?,’ it’s a matter of being able to say to a potential new user ‘yes, if you really want it, MS Office is available natively.’

  18. To create effective training materials for my job as a training specialist, I use my own personal Mac with iWork and save them as PDFs. Word for the PC is practically worthless for creating anything with graphics in it. Publisher isn’t much better.

  19. Adam Jackson

    I always hate these “death of” articles. If no one needed it, it wouldn’t be available. Microsoft may have shitty products (I disagree but that’s what people think) but if they’re not making any money on something, they stop making it. Their 5 year Apple Office agreement ended in 2003 and they’ve already committed to the next version of Office with a feature preview.

    For me. I can’t stand that I can’t save all Pages documents in .DOC / .DOCX by default. I have to go to the share menu and export as word doc. Also, my book editor sends me revisions in MS word that pages doesn’t support. for wordprocessing, if you’re doing anything beyond RTF capable documents, you need to have word installed on your machine.

    I write and create in iWork ’09 (pages & numbers) but I collaborate in MS word because it’s the standard and that won’t go away for a very long time.

  20. I do need Office for academic writing. Software like EndNote, Papers, etc. do at most communicate with Microsoft Office or LaTeX. I`m no coder so I prefer Office.

  21. iWork sometimes is actually better than the MS Office. But for pro spreadsheet users Excel is indispensable afaik. OpenOffice got better – ok – but it is still way behind iWork and MS Office. And as a Mac user OpenOffice is still hell.
    for my needs iwork is the best choice.

  22. J D Sonice

    MS Office is the only application that caused my iMac to misbehave. I took it off 2 years ago and never missed it. Openoffice and Apple products are so much cheaper and better.

    Naw, Apple does not need MS.

  23. I personally don’t use Office at home or work. I don’t need to collaborate any more than I can do through email. I save nearly everything as PDF. I don’t recieve office documents and the few I do I can open happily in iWork. My life is perfect like that.

    For those that collaborate as Mark does, my boss does and many of my clients do I feel it’s a necessity. I know a bunch of people who use NeoOffice and OpenOffice and they are more than happy. Still, there are always those who need compatibility with the less used functions of MS Office and for that reason it will continue to sell.

    Office 2008 had a great little change in pricing, allowing non-students to purchase the cheaper version, but it’s still a rip-off. I’d like to see proper licensing (by companies who purchase MS Office) at a cost similar to that of Office in China.

    • Mark Crump

      I’ve had compatibility issues with complicated documents and OO. Also, I don’t think there’s any citation management software that works with OO — but I’m ready to be proven wrong.

    • I tried that when I first got a Mac last September… Afterwards I was more than happy to shell out the money for Office. There are some missing features and its not as user-friendly.

    • I tried OpenOffice when I first got my Mac. It worked well enough for exchanging documents among my friends and family but fell down hard when working in an enterprise environment where people tend to use the more advanced features of Word and Excel. My employer then started offering MS Office (Mac or Windows) for employee use at home at a discount (FREE as long I remained an employee).