To buy or not to buy Office for Mac

I got my new computer a little while back and this meant that I was forced into upgrading a lot of software. My other computer was pushing 8 years old and it could not handle a lot of the newer software packages so I was truly stuck in what we like to refer to as the “land of no upgrades.” It is a nice blissful place if you are content to never be up to date again and ultimately do not mind a computer that falls further and further behind the times. It is also peaceful if you can stand the slow crawl that the computer ultimately becomes with all the security patches and other things that you get forced into over time. Ultimately, you have to face reality and just admit that a machine that old is not the same “workhorse” that it used to be. In my case it was doing the job – barely.

So I have my new shiny upgrade and I am delighted with it. It is pretty. It is shiny. It is fast. It is everything that a Mac should be. There was only one problem, well multiple problems, I was way behind on all my software packages because my other computer just could not run anything newer. This meant that on top of the cost of my new computer I was facing new software. This was going to get very expensive very quickly.

Ultimately, I had to pick the most important to me. What could I absolutely live without right away? I could live without a few things, but ultimately I decided that my bread and butter software of choice would be Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. That is how I do the bulk of my work. I admit that I use Adobe Dreamweaver too, but I can hand code my XHTML, HTML, CSS, etc so the added features in Dreamweaver are just a bonus for me. I will admit to not using Dreamweaver to the fullest of its capacities and even to not knowing how to use half of what it does. I just like it as a coding environment, not a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) environment. I like what it does for me and my workflow. I like how easily accessible it makes my files when I am working and how easy I can flip back and forth between files when I am working on a bunch at a time.

I am an Adobe girl. I admit it. I have sipped the Apple Kool-Aid and liked it so much I started chugging it. I will flat out admit to gulping down the Adobe Punch from back when Dreamweaver was still Macromedia and it was still in Dreamweaver 1.0. Those were the days when I was still fresh into web design. I used Macromedia Fireworks back then. I have come a long ways since then. So has Dreamweaver and Fireworks. I actually had to force myself to learn Adobe Photoshop and I am grateful for the time I took to learn it. I am grateful for the time I spent learning Adobe Illustrator since then.

This is not about Adobe products, however. I had to make a choice in which software I would upgrade immediately. I chose to do the Adobe products because I was using those in my design business and I needed to bring those up to date. I plunged into the world of cloud software suites with the Adobe Creative Cloud.

I just could not bring myself to do this with Microsoft Office, however. I have a fundamental problem paying repeat licensing fees on a piece of software that has no monumental improvements year after year, especially on a Mac. Since I had Office 2008 for Mac on my previous Mac and I was perfectly content with it and the current version is 2011 with no version in between, I was content to continue to run Office 2008. However, the license was for 3 computers and it was already licensed for 3 computers. The new flashy 2011 version was licensed for 1 computer and cost more than what I paid for the original 3 computer version of 2008.

They are trying to drive everyone to the Microsoft Office 365 which has some really nice added bonus features not even related to Microsoft Office. The price is less than the Office version currently out and it is licensed for up to 5 computers so it is appealing. However, the catch is that you have to pay that $100 fee every single year. If you opt for the monthly payment plan, it ends up costing you $120 per year which is just shy of what it cost me for Microsoft Office 2008 until you factor in that they are going to charge you tax on that as well so marginally more than what it cost for what I originally paid for Office 2008. Now keep in mind that this is for 2 more additional computers and several more wonderful and fabulous features.

Those features are wonderful and fabulous if you use them. If you use them times 5, then all the better. You are probably getting a steal of a deal for many of these features. For those on a Mac, you do not even get to access some of the software because it does not run on a Mac so you get screwed all the way around. You have to make sure you are getting what you pay for when you pay for it.

Ultimately, I decided that I was NOT making the plunge for the $139.99 Microsoft Office 2011 software package licensed for 1 Mac that only included Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. At least not right now. At that cost, it was going to have to wait. On a bad day, that was a lot of money to spend, on a good day I was certainly in control of all my faculties and I knew I could find something else.

I went searching for other alternatives. I knew they were available. I have used them in the past and with decent luck. That is the beauty of open source software, it is available for free or affordable prices. It is often high quality software. It even does a decent job of handling proprietary file formats. With many open document formats available and being used today, it makes the use of open source software a more appealing.

As a Mac user, I could go with the Apple Works software package for a decent price. I think the entire package would set me back $79.99 for what Apple believes is its equivalent of Word (Pages), Excel (Numbers), and PowerPoint (Keynote). While I do like Keynote as a PowerPoint on steroids alternative, I am not a fan on Pages or Numbers. Paying to get something that I am not a fan of just was not something I was willing to do.

Thus I did a web search for Microsoft Office alternatives for Mac. You would be amazed that there are not as many available for Mac as there are for Windows based machines. However, I was able to read some reviews on some.

I have previously tried OpenOffice. I was not entirely impressed with OpenOffice in past experiences. I have used it on both Windows and Mac. It just seemed like an Office clone that could not do everything that Office did in quite the same way. It was a “close enough” program, but in the past it had some compatibility issues, especially on the Mac. I long ago deleted it off my Mac. Hence why I was running Office 2008. I will admit that I did go and look at OpenOffice first this time around and check out any improvements (or lack there of). From some of the reviews I was reading online, I decided that it was not for me and I moved on in my search even though I must admit that some of the improvements did look appealing. I wanted something new and refreshing.

There are several out there, but I settled on Libre Office in the end.

Libre Office has not disappointed me thus far. I have used it to open several Excel files with macros. As many things, Macs do not like macros so it let me know that it would not run the macros but still opened the file anyway. I just had to tell it to do so. Other than that, I have not had any problems with Libre Office running with these files. If I had to make a call, I would actually say that these files perform better in Libre Office than they did in Office 2008. Of course it could just be the difference in computers too.

Libre Office is refreshing and comfortable right after installing. I started with Excel equivalent and had no problems navigating and working with the Excel file that I opened. I twas like an old friend, catching up. It was as if we had never parted. Sure the icon on the dock was different, but the program’s interface was familiar and I did not have any problems with efficiency getting the work done that needed to be done. It was definitely an improvement over the limited interface of Google Docs. It was a clean and smooth interface like Microsoft Excel but it was not all the same.

I was excited to find that I was not alone in my experience with finding relief in the Open Source Community and somehow finding solace in that maybe Microsoft had not won this go round in the software monopoly. I found an article by David Braue entitled “Why I may never install Office for Mac again” [] that clearly indicates that while our solution was not the same, our disdain for Office was. The Open Source Community is full of fabulous wonders out there, sometimes we just have to step out of the social norms to find them.

For now I am content to work with Libre Office. Until it convinces me that it cannot hold up to the tasks that I ask it to do, it is welcome to spend time on my computer and serve as my office suite of choice.

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