Differences Between Win and Mac Word

Contributed by John McGhie

Word on the Macintosh is basically Word for Windows re-compiled to run on the Mac. It's not just "compatible".  It's not just "like" Word for the PC.  It is Microsoft Word, the same one Microsoft makes for every platform.

The cost and number of person-hours spent developing Word is mind-boggling.  It's well over a billion dollars, and there are well over ten thousand person-years of effort in it.  Making a new one just for the Mac would have been so expensive that a copy of Word would cost several thousand dollars.  You might buy two at that price, but the rest of us couldn't afford it!

Because it is the same software, and Microsoft has a policy of bringing the two versions closer together, the differences will become less over time.  Essentially, each version on the PC is matched a year later by a version on the Mac (Microsoft is trying to reduce that gap, but the Mac Business Unit has to wait for the Windows Office Business Unit to "finish" their version before MBU can finalize theirs).

Macintosh Equivalent PC Version
Word 2004 Word 2000
Word v.X Word 2000
Word 2001 Word 2000
Word 98 Word 97
Word 6 Word 95
Word 5 Word 6

Differences in Appearance

On each platform, Word adopts the default appearance of the Operating System.  There is almost nothing that you see on the screen that is drawn by Word: on the Mac, the display is created by Mac OS; on the PC, by Windows.  It saves money and it saves vast amounts of disk space and processor power.

The only difference you are likely to notice is that if you are in OS X, the window controls are on the opposite side to Windows.

Different Keystrokes

On the Mac the Command (Apple) key is the Control Key in Windows, whereas the Control Key from the Mac is the Right-Click in Windows. 

On a Windows keyboard, the Control key is always labeled Ctrl.  On a Mac keyboard, expect to find the or ? symbol on the Command key.  (These characters will not display on the PC; they should look like this:Command symbol, Apple symbol.)  This paragraph is a classic example of the cross-platform font difficulties you will experience.  There is no default font common to the PC and the Mac that contains both of those characters (in case you are interested, that's "Lucida Grande", the most wide-ranging of the Mac OS X Unicode fonts).  On the PC, you can use characters with impunity: the PC will find the closest font that contains the character.  On the Mac, in Word 2004 and above,you can use the exact same range of characters because Word 2004 is running in Unicode; however, because you cannot embed the font in the document, you need to make sure that the character that you use exists in one or more of the Unicode fonts your recipient has. If in doubt, for PC compatibility, use only fonts that Microsoft supplies. In lower versions of Mac Word, you must use the font that contains the character you want and both you and your recipient must have that font. 

Word is very right-click-centric.  If you do not have a two-button mouse, you will find it is a very worthwhile investment if you are going to spend much time in Word.

These are equivalent to each other:



Control Key Command (Apple) Key
Right-Click Control-Click
ctrl+c Command+c
ctrl+v Command+v
ctrl+s Command+s
File>Close Command+w
ctrl key Option Key
ctrl+q Command+Option+q
ctrl+space Ctrl+space
Tools>Options Word>Preferences
File>New Task Pane Project Gallery
Mail Merge Task Pane Data Merge Palette


The Control-Click (or Right-Click) brings up the "context menu" wherever you happen to be.  In Word almost everything you want to do, or everything you want to know, will appear on the right-click.  The menus that appear vary dramatically depending on where your mouse-pointer is.

Word also responds to the scroll-wheel if you have one.  (Not all windows; for example preferences and options dialogs do not...). Mouse scroll wheel support in Word pre-X depends totally on the mouse drivers.  Microsoft drivers for the Microsoft Mouse generally work (and will often drive other companies' mice!).

In Windows, the keyboard shortcuts are listed in the Help, in a topic surprisingly enough called "keyword shortcuts".  On the Mac, only some of the keystrokes are listed, in various topics such as "About using shortcut keys" and "Select text and graphics".  To find the list on either platform, use Search from the Microsoft Office Help to look for the word "keyboard".

You can look at the Key Assignments by using Tools>Customize>Keyboard on either platform.  If you select a command, and it has a key assignment, the Customize dialog will tell you what it is.  This is a better place to look than the Help, because users can (and should) change their keystrokes to suit themselves on either platform.  The Customize dialog also includes a handy Reset button if you decide you do not like the keystrokes you inherited from the previous user on that computer.

Finally, each version of Word enables you to print a list of the currently-assigned keystrokes so you can stick them on the wall.  To print them on the Mac:

  1. Go to Tools>Macro>Macros
  2. In the Macros In pop-up menu, click Word Commands
  3. In the Macro name box click ListCommands
  4. Click Run
  5. In the List Commands dialog, click Current Menu and Keyboard settings and OK
  6. On the File menu, click Print.

You do it exactly the same way in Windows, or see here for a more extensive pre-built list.

One keystroke that will catch you out a few times is Command + h.  Ctrl + h in Windows is the shortcut for the Replace dialog.  On Mac OS X, Command + h hides the application!  Use Command + Shift + H for the Replace dialog on OS X. 

With OS X, Apple changed some of the keystrokes reserved for the operating system and added some new ones.  On each version of Mac OS, Word follows system convention.

Some Mac keyboards do not have a Forward Delete key.  Word needs one: there is a difference in Word between Forward Delete and Back Delete.  You will strike it most often in tables: in a Table, Delete becomes "Clear" which removes the cell contents without removing the cells.  Use Cut to delete the cells themselves.  Back Delete will remove text within a cell but has no effect if more than one cell is selected.  If you are on a Mac laptop, the Forward Delete key is probably Function + Delete.

The Mac has an Option Key, Windows does not have an equivalent.  Generally what you expect from the Option key will be on the Control Key in Windows.

Three very commonly-used shortcuts are Command + c (Copy), Command + v (Paste), and Command + s (Save).  On Windows these are Ctrl + v, Ctrl + c, and Ctrl + s.

A keystroke that may catch you out a few times is Clear Formatting: on the PC it's Ctrl + q to restore paragraph formatting to that of the underlying style, and Ctrl + Space Bar to restore character (font) formatting.  On Mac OS 9, they are the same.  On Mac OS X,  these are Command + Option + q and Ctrl + Space Bar

Later versions of Word have an Edit>Clear>Formats command on the Menu bar, which will save you trying to remember the other two.  However, note that Clear>Formats resets the formatting back to the formatting of Normal Style (it applies Normal Style) whereas the individual commands simply reset a paragraph to the formatting of the current style.

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Different Menus

One thing that will catch you out all the time is that on the Mac, Word adopts the Mac convention of having a Preferences command.  In OS X it's on the Application (Word) menu, in OS 9 it's on the Edit menu, again, following the OS convention.  On the PC, this is Tools>Options on the Tools menu.  It's the same thing, the tabs are exactly the same inside.

Word on the Mac still has a Work menu you can put on your menu bar; this has been replaced by the Task Pane (which is nowhere near as convenient) in later versions of PC Word.

Mac Word also has a Font menu which the PC lacks.

Different Print Mechanism

In order to display a document in WYSIWYG mode, Word needs to know a lot about the capabilities of the printer the document will eventually be sent to.

In Windows this is very simple: Word reads all the information it needs from the printer driver for the printer set as the Windows default.  On the Mac, it attempts to do the same thing, but the mechanism is vastly more complex.  Look here for more detail.

Some Features Didn't Make it

Making software is a depressingly manual activity.  Every line of code has to be planned, typed, and checked.  There are more than 30 million of them in Microsoft Office.  There simply was not enough time and money to bring all the features of PC Word across to the Mac.  And some of them we wouldn't want, anyway!  Most of the omissions are of interest only to solution developers:

Restricted Unicode Support

VBA a Level Behind

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