What Is Microsoft Word for Mac?

How Word for Mac differs from Word for Windows

Microsoft Word is a word processing application that was first released on the Mac in 1985. The word processor differentiates itself from text editors such as Notes by providing a robust platform with advanced features including spell checking, embedded objects and charts, pictures, and merging data from databases. An important characteristic of Word and other modern word processors is the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) interface that matches the screen to the final document printed on the page.

Microsoft Word is the word processing application of choice for most businesses. Similar versions are available for Mac computers and Windows computers.

Information in this article applies to Microsoft Word as part of a Microsoft 365 for Mac subscription and Word in the one-time-purchase of Microsoft Office 2021 for Mac.

How Word for Mac Differs From Word for Windows

While the Mac version of Microsoft Word is similar to the Windows version, there are a few differences.

  • The Mac lacks integration with SharePoint and Visual Basic. While Word for Mac has some level of support for SharePoint and Visual Basic, it does not support all aspects of these features.
  • Microsoft Word for Mac doesn't support ActiveX, which is a Windows-only technology. ActiveX is slowly being phased out by Microsoft, but the inability to work with it in Word for Mac may cause problems for users who need that feature.
  • Word for Mac doesn't include Digital Ink and the associated freestyle drawing tools.
  • Word for Mac doesn't include the Document Inspector, which removes personal information and hidden data from a document.
  • Word for Mac doesn't include embedded fonts.

Word in Microsoft 365 vs. Word for Mac 2019

Word for Mac is available either as a monthly subscription or as a one-time software purchase. The Microsoft Office for Mac 2021 software suite and Microsoft 365 for Mac subscription both contain Word for Mac.

There are minor differences between the two versions of Word for Mac. Even though they were released in the same month, the new Word icon is only available in the subscription version, while the one-time-purchase software retains the Metro design interface.

Although the one-time-purchase software receives security updates from Microsoft, it does not receive new feature updates, which are included in the subscription package. Additionally, there is a mobile version of Microsoft 365 (which includes Word, Excel, and Powerpoint), as well as a separate Microsoft Word app, available for iOS and Android devices.

The subscription model of Word in Microsoft 365 can be installed on multiple computers, tablets, and phones. The one-time-purchase version can be used only on one computer.

How to Get Microsoft Word for Mac OS

Microsoft Word for Mac is available in the Mac App Store, both as a stand-alone app and as part of the Microsoft 365 bundle, but both options require an Microsoft 365 subscription. The easiest way to install Word on a Mac is to download it from the App Store.

Mac App Store showing Word purchase options

You can also sign in to your Microsoft account online and order an Microsoft 365 subscription there.

If you prefer to buy the one-time-purchase software as part of Microsoft Office, it's included in Office Home & Student 2019, which is available at the Microsoft website, as well as from stores such as Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart.

Do You Need Microsoft Word for Mac? 

The Mac OS comes with a word processor called Pages, which has a WYSIWYG interface. It includes features to embed pictures and create charts, and can handle invoices for small offices, term papers for students, and other standard uses for a word processor. 

Pages is a free application on the Mac and is part of iCloud. The cloud-based Pages gives you access on any Mac via the web. Pages is also a free download for the iPad and iPhone.

Pages an excellent Word substitute for students, home use, and small offices. It includes collaboration features and can export to a Word file format. However, exchanging documents with people who use Microsoft Word is awkward. Pages isn't equipped for advanced features such as mail merges and template or primary documents.

If you work for a company that uses Word as its word processing platform, you need to use Microsoft Word. If you work in a small business, are a student, or need a word processor for home use, check out Pages before investing in Microsoft Word.

Is It Possible to Run Word for Windows on a Mac?

If you absolutely need to run Word for Windows, you don't have to give up your Mac. It's possible to install Windows on a Mac, and it's possible to run a Windows app side-by-side with Mac apps using Parallels software (or another Windows emulator).

Parallels running on a Mac

Installing Parallels isn't for the tech-queasy, but it doesn't take much technical know-how to get up and running. Once you have Windows running on your Mac, using Parallels is a breeze.

A History of Microsoft Word on the Mac

While Microsoft Word may seem synonymous with Windows, it was released on the Mac years before it made its first appearance on Windows. Despite a sometimes rocky relationship between Microsoft and Apple, Microsoft Word has been a mainstay on Macs since the early days.

  • 1985: Microsoft released Word 1.0 for the Mac and MS-DOS. 
  • 1989: Word 4.0 came to the Mac as part of Microsoft Office.
  • 1993: Office 4.2 included Word 6. This was the first time both Windows and Macs had the same version of Microsoft Word.
  • 2001: Microsoft Word version X was the first version to support Mac OS X.
  • 2004: Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac contained Word.
  • 2010: Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 was released.
  • 2015: Microsoft Word 2016 became available to Microsoft 365 subscribers. Later that year, Microsoft released a one-time-purchase version of Office 2016 for Mac that included Word.
  • 2018: Microsoft Word for Mac 2019 was released as part of a one-time purchase of Microsoft Office software and as part of an Microsoft 365 subscription.
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