Should you buy Office for your Mac?

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© Microsoft

Having an Apple laptop doesn't mean you can't use the popular Microsoft Office product suite. Here's a guide to using Office 365 on your Mac and some of the cheaper alternatives

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Aeons ago the idea of installing Microsoft software on a Mac would have been unthinkable, but as both companies have adopted a more open stance, and compatibility issues have been ironed out, Office and Office 365 are both viable productivity software option for Mac users.

The latest version of Office software available for the Mac is 'Office for Mac 2016', which was first launched as part of Office 365 in July 2015 as part of the 365 subscription model and then as a standalone product in September.

At the enterprise level, Microsoft has made it simple for Mac users within an organisation to install Office 2016 for Mac themselves by providing them with the installer package file. Alternatively IT admins can download the installer package file to the local network and use software distribution tools to deploy Office 2016 for Mac to users.

If you have an Office 365 plan you can simply direct Mac users to download and install the software and login using their credentials to get started straight away, as long as they are an admin on the device and you have an available seat.

So is Office for Mac the best choice for you? Let's break it down...

The benefits

Familiarity, compatibility and a rich set of features for power users are the main benefits of opting for Office on your Mac. If your office is a Microsoft shop it will probably be easiest to use Office 365 on your Mac, and it is worth asking your IT team if you can you can use the company Office 365 plan.

If this is for personal use then it comes down to personal preference, and desire to pay for the software instead of free alternatives like G Suite or iWork, which integrate with Microsoft formats fine.

The drawbacks

Price is the primary drawback when it comes to Office software, especially when there are perfectly good free alternatives on the market.

The alternatives

Apple offers its own suite of office software -- Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets and Keynote for presentations.

iWork apps have also come a long way in terms of document compatibility, with users now able to open, edit, and save files in standard Office formats as well as:DOC, DOCX, XLS, XLSX, PPT, and PPTX, PDF, CSV, and HTML.

All three iWork applications were made free for existing users and owners of Apple devices in 2013. However, if you want to store work in the cloud then Apple will try to push you to save work in its own iCloud, where free storage is pretty stingy with just 5GB, scaling up to £6.99 per month for 2TB. You can sync iWork with cloud file storage providers Dropbox or Box though.

Then there is the popular, and free Google office suite -- called G Suite -- with its stripped down Docs, Sheets and Slides, complete with 32GB of free Drive storage.

Read next: G Suite vs Office 365 - What's the best office suite for business?

Pricing

Office 365 Home, which can be installed on one to five PCs or Macs, is charged at £79.99 per year and includes 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage per user. A personal 365 package (1 user) is £59.99 per year.

The Office for Mac software as a standalone download is a one-off payment of £119.99.

For businesses large and small Office 365 is charged on a tiered basis depending on the number of 'seats' or logins required. Business licences start at £3.10 per user per month for the Business Essential package and up to a maximum of 300 users.

See here for a full pricing structure and feature list.

Latest features

Microsoft released a bunch of new Office for Mac functions in February 2017 for the new Track Pad and Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro.

Anyone lucky enough to have the latest MacBook pro can now use the Touch Bar to insert photos, hyperlinks, or comments in your document.

For Powerpoint the Touch Bar integrates slide thumbnails so you can move through your presentation, and also includes a timer.

In Excel, pressing the equal sign launches the most recently used commands on the Touch Bar.

Read next: New Microsoft Office 365 Business and Enterprise tiers explained: which one is right for your business?

Verdict

As a Mac user, I opted for the Apple iWork software suite, mainly based on price. The software itself is native to the Mac, and has that clean Apple design with the sort of functionality anyone brought up on Office products will find familiar.

There are no issues exporting documents to different formats, allowing for easy sharing, which was one of the main drawbacks to not selecting Microsoft products in the past.

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