What is Microsoft Word for Mac?

Plus, how it's different from Microsoft Word for Windows

Man typing on laptop


Microsoft Word is a word processing application first released on the Mac in 1985. The word processor differentiates itself from text editors like Notes by providing a more powerful platform with advanced features such as spell checking, embedding objects like charts, inserting pictures and even merging data from databases. A key characteristic of modern word processors is the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) interface that matches the screen to the final product printed on the page, making it much easier to know how the end product will appear.

Do You Need Microsoft Word for Mac? 

Mac OS comes with a fully functional word processor called Pages. A part of Apple's iWork office suite, which includes a spreadsheet and presentation software, Pages has a WYSIWYG interface, allows you to embed pictures or create charts and can handle invoices for small offices, term papers for students and many other standard uses for a word processor. 

Perhaps just as important, Pages comes as an application on your Mac and 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.

This makes Pages a great substitute for students and a small office, but what if you need to do more? While Pages does include collaboration features including the ability to export to a Word file, working with others that use Microsoft Word will still be awkward. Pages also isn't equipped for advanced features such as mail merges and master documents, which use one file to combine multiple documents.

If you are working with others who use Microsoft Office or for a business that uses it as their word processing platform, you will want to use Microsoft Word. If you work in a small business, are a student or need a word processor for home use, you should check out Pages before investing in Microsoft Word.

How is Microsoft Word for Mac Different Than Word for Windows?

While the Mac version of Microsoft Word is mostly the same as the Windows version, there are a few differences that might become stumbling blocks. The biggest hurdles are integration with SharePoint and Visual Basic scripting. 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 also doesn't support ActiveX, which is a Windows-only technology for sharing components. ActiveX is slowly being axed by Microsoft, but the inability to work with it in Word for Mac may cause issues if that feature is needed. 

Office for Windows includes Microsoft Access, which is a relational database manager. Microsoft Access isn't available for Mac, so any data stored in Access would be unavailable for mail merges or other data access features. 

And unfortunately, Word for Mac doesn't support right-to-left languages like Arabic or Farsi.

What is the Difference Between Office 365 and Word for Mac OS?

The main difference between Microsoft Office and Office 365 is how you pay for it. Office 365 is a subscription-based service. The personal version of Office 365 costs $6.99 a month or $69.99 per year compared to the $149.99 one-time purchase for Office 2016. If you do the math, that's about two years and two months of subscription costs.

So buying it outright is better, right? Not so fast. 

The subscription service offers unlimited phone and chat support, 60 minutes per month of Skype calls and 1 TB of storage on Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage platform. In fact, the 1 TB of storage itself may pay for itself when you consider the same amount of storage costs $9.99 a month for Google Drive or Dropbox.

How to Download Microsoft Word for Mac OS

Neither Microsoft Word or Microsoft Office are available through the Mac's App Store. The easiest way to install it on your Mac is to purchase it through Microsoft's Office website and download it.

  • Go to office.com in your web browser and sign into your account. (If you do not have an account, you will need to create one.)
  • If you haven't purchased Office, click the Buy Office 365 button in the top-right corner of the screen.
  • If you already have purchased Office, click the Install Office button right next to the Buy Office 365 button.
  • Once the download is complete, open your Downloads folder. This folder is usually located on the dock next to the Applications folder. You can also open a Finder menu and click the Downloads folder on the left-side menu. Note: Some browsers will display the downloaded file at the bottom of the browser allowing you to simply click on it from the browser.
  • Click Continue, review the software license and then select Agree.
  • The next section is to select the destination. You will probably want to keep the default setting and click Continue.
  • You may need to enter your Mac password to give the installer permission. After entering the password, click Install Software.
  • After the software installs, click the Close button.

You can also purchase and download Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac through Amazon 's website. Electronic stores like Best Buy and Frys sell a Key Card allowing you to download Office through the Office.com website.

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

Parallels running on a Mac
Parallels allows you to boot other operating systems like Windows on top of Mac OS.  Parallels

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 in fact, it is possible to run a Windows app side-by-side with Mac apps using software like Parallels.

This isn't for the tech-queasy, but it doesn't take too much technical know-how to get up and running. In fact, once you have Windows running on your Mac, installing and using software like Parallels is a breeze. Read more about installing Windows on your Mac

A History of Microsoft Word on the Mac

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

  • 1985: Microsoft releases Word 1.0 for the Mac and MS-DOS. 
  • 1989: Word 4.0 comes to the Mac as part of Microsoft Office.
  • 1993: Office 4.2 comes includes Word 6. This is the first time both Windows and the Mac have the same version of Microsoft Word.
  • 2001: Microsoft Word v. X is the first version to support the Mac's new OS X operating system.
  • 2015: Microsoft Word 2016 is included with Office 2016. It is the most recent version of Word.