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Document and Spreadsheet Options for Mac Users

By January 4, 2012 7 Comments

Photo source: twek.wordpress.com

This week, we received a question from one of our readers.  Jessica in Virginia asks:

My office uses Microsoft office on Windows, and I have a desktop there.  I need to purchase a new computer for home.  I occasionally need to take Word and/or Excel files home to work on them.  I would like to move to Apple at home, and I understand Microsoft Office for Mac is available.  I haven’t been able to get a straight, thorough answer about whether files on Windows Office and Mac Office are directly compatible such that I can save a file at work and then open, edit and save the same file on an Apple.

Also, my boss said he heard that operating Office on the Mac opens you up to the Windows-related security issues that people use Macs to avoid.  If you could address that point as well, it would be great.


First, I'll address the issue of compatibility.  If you download Office on your Mac, you should be able to open documents from your work PC without any problems. This compatibility is verified on both Apple’s website and Microsoft’s.

Other Options:

  • If you don't want to spend the money on MS Office ($250), consider buying iWork ($80).  iWork is Apple's own suite of productivity software, and it's very similar to MS Office.  Keep in mind that all of the features you enjoy in Office might not be available in iWork.  Read a comparison of MS Office vs. iWork.   As with MS Office for Mac, you can save files in iWork that can be opened on a PC, and vice versa.
  • If you don't want to purchase any software at all, check out Google Docs.  Google Docs has most of the functionality of MS Office, but there are some disadvantages.  First of all, it's not nearly as secure as MS Office or iWork.  Once you open, create or edit a file in Google Docs, it becomes the property of Google.  Also, you have to have an Internet connection to use Google Docs.  For most enterprise-level users, Google Docs is not a viable option for work-related use, whether you're using it in the office or at home.

If your employer permits, use Dropbox to easily access your files from work and home.

As for the security concerns with MS Office on Mac, Jessica's boss is probably talking about macro viruses.  A macro is a "series of commands and functions that are stored in a Microsoft Visual Basic module and can be run whenever you need to perform the task. For example, if you often enter long text strings in cells, you can create a macro to format those cells so that the text wraps."You can tell if a file has macros by its extensions (for example, instead of a .docx file, it would be a .docm file).  Hackers use macros to write viruses that can attack your computer and erase all the files.  These viruses are embedded in an MS Office file and can be transferred when you open the file on your Mac.  If you never use files with macros, then seeing the .docm file extension is a red flag that the file could be infected—don’t open it on your Mac until you verify that the file is supposed to have macros.

A security lapse like this is unlikely, and virtually impossible if you’re just working with your own files from your work PC.  Also, Microsoft recently released a security update for MS Office for Mac to prevent security issues like this  from happening at all.  You would have to open an infected file on your Mac to be vulnerable at all, and as long as you have a good antivirus program in place on your work PC and Mac, files like this will be blocked completely.

Readers: do you have experience coordinating documents and spreadsheets on both PCs and Macs? If so, which programs do you use and how well do they work?  Let us know in the comments.  


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