Formatting Differences in MS Word on Windows vs Mac
November 19, 2009 8:35 AM   Subscribe

How consistent is MS Office between Windows and OSX? Will using MS Office on my Mac solve this formatting problem I'm having?

I'm have a MacBook Pro running Leopard,and I've been using Open Office to write my papers. It's great. I love Open Office (and love that it's free). When I need to turn something in, I just save it in PDF format, e-mail it to myself, then go to a computer lab, check my e-mail, and print off the PDF document. Perfect.

The problem is that I have a professor who needs some documents turned in via e-mail, and they use MS Word. I can save an Open Office document as a Word file (.doc or .docx), and for plain text formatting that's fine, but as soon as an outline or numbered list is created, things look crazy. It seems fine when I save it in Open Office, and it's fine when I then open that document using Open Office, but if the document is opened with MS Word, the formatting is horrible.

I can buy the MS Office suite for Mac at school using my student discount (it's around $35 I think). If I install that, and use Word to create these documents, will they appear the same when my professor opens them using Word, on her Windows computer?

If there will still be differences then I'll skip the $35 and just keep going to the computer lab to tweak things.

If I save a document in MS Word on a Mac and send it to a person using MS Word on a PC, are there formatting differences?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have never noticed any differences. I only use Macs at home, and I have always been forced by HORRIBLE BASTARD PEOPLE to use PCs at work. I send files back and forth between my Mac and my work PC, and it is 100% transparent. There is also a built-in computability check when you save.

Do remember that PCs need the extension to be visible, which is not always set as the default on the Mac.

For $35, go for it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:52 AM on November 19, 2009

I've never had any problems with emailing papers between Windows and Mac Word formats, and I've also always used Word for Macs. In fact, I find the Mac version to be much more compatible and easy to use in general. I say go for it.
posted by lodie6 at 9:02 AM on November 19, 2009

We use a mix of PCs and Macs here at work, and compatibility seems to be better between office 2008 and 2007 than between Office and OpenOffice. Which is to say we have the occasional formatting problem, but it works most of the time.

I'd say go for the Office 2008 purchase.

Alternatively, you could get windows + office for ~75-80 bucks here on our campus - that would solve the problem for certain. And Office 2007 is much better than 2008, in my opinion, anyway.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:12 AM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: I have a license for Vista, so I could dual boot that if necessary, but I really like operating in the OSX environment over Windows (having used Windows since 1995, and getting a Mac in August, it's now somewhat more cumbersome to navigating around in Windows; I just sorta prefer OSX to Windows now).

I don't know which version of Office is being sold in the bookstore, but it sounds like I won't have any compatibility/formatting problems when my professor opens them on her Windows machine. I'll take the $35 plunge and can go back to using the computer lab solely as a printing station.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:17 AM on November 19, 2009

I can buy the MS Office suite for Mac at school using my student discount (it's around $35 I think).

I work at an academic institution and managed to buy a copy of office for $9.95.
It's part of Microsoft's Home User Program. Email your IT department and ask about it.
posted by special-k at 10:32 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Powerpoint (2003 I guess) routinely screwed things up between PC/Mac, but Word seemed pretty consistent.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:53 AM on November 19, 2009

If you have ever used Office before - say 2003 or earlier for Windows - Office 2008 Mac will seem pretty familiar (except for the STUPID ASININE DECISION to keep all of the tool options you might actually use in a separate floating idiot window that self-collapses to hide the thing you are trying to click on).

If you used Office 2007 and appreciated the move to streamline the zillion toolbars you'll hate Mac Office with a passion.

(Did I mention the stupid frickin' floating toolbox window? God I despise that thing)
posted by caution live frogs at 11:10 AM on November 19, 2009

Office 2008 for the Mac is pretty bad software (though I'd take it over Open Office any day, to be honest), but it is mostly compatible with PC Office. The only big differences I've noted are in the built-in citations manager, which gets confused when going from PC to Mac. If you use Mac-specific fonts, they'll be replaced on the PC side, naturally.

You might consider other options: Can open office save in .rtf? That might work better as an interchange format, especially if it's only for minor things like bullets and lists. TextEdit (the Apple editor) can also save in word format; you might try opening your document in that, saving as word and then opening in PC Word to see what it looks like.

All that said, however, $35 is really an absolute steal to get Word and Excel on your Mac, and there are so many other ways in which they're going to come in handy in the future that ultimately you should just go buy it.
posted by bonaldi at 11:45 AM on November 19, 2009

The biggest formatting problem I've run into (and I routinely pass back and forth large, styled documents with change tracking enabled) is that going back and forth between the Mac and PC versions causes the 'restart footnote numbering at the beginning of each section' setting to get reset to the default of 'number footnotes continuously from the beginning.' This is a problem when editing a collection of papers or a book that restarts footnotes for each chapter.

Also, on the whole, Word 2008 is a bit more crash-prone than Word 2007, particularly with large documents.
posted by jedicus at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2009

I used to do tech in a small hybrid office (Leopard, XP, Vista, 2000) Word tends to stay mostly consistent between Mac and Windows. However, there are some differences. For instance, along with jedicus's comment on footnotes, in Mac Office 2007 you must import pictures through insert->image, images and other media that is dragged and dropped will not display when the file is displayed in Word for Windows, I don't remember if this is fixed in later versions. Furthermore, there may be a few minor typographic differences in kerning and tracking, especially when you print from a Mac versus when you print from a Windows computer (I imagine Office for Mac takes advantage of OSX's superior typographic rendering).
posted by thebestsophist at 12:37 PM on November 19, 2009

From my experience, Word 2008 for Mac<>Word 2003/2007 is generally okay (apart from some minor niggles, all of which have been mentioned above). Just don't expect the same for Excel, it's a minor disaster zone. Half the macros don't work, the graph all look horrible, etc, etc. I'd say it's definitely worth the $35.
posted by dragontail at 1:28 PM on November 19, 2009

Why can't the professor receive pdf attachments in email? That seems to be the easiest solution.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:14 PM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: Why can't the professor receive pdf attachments in email? That seems to be the easiest solution.

Yeah, that's definitely the easiest solution, but my professor wants to critique the document with comments she types herself, and then send it back to me. She told me she can copy/paste from a PDF to a Word doc and then send it back, but that apparently breaks the formatting even more than OpenOffice-->Word-->OpenOffice does.

I dropped the $35, installed the entire suite in about 5 minutes, and things look peachy. Thanks, hive mind.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:10 PM on November 19, 2009

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