Differences Between Win and Mac Word

Contributed by John McGhie and Jim Gordon

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. However:

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, recently the Mac Business Unit became part of the main Office Business Unit that makes Office for every platform).


Equivalent PC Version


Word 2013


Word 2010


Word 2007

Word 2011

Word 2003

Word 2008

Word 2002

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

Same File Formats Used in Mac and PC

Mac Office MVP Jim Gordon writes: "The Microsoft Office file format Open XML (OOXML) is for Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and used on both the Mac and the PC. The file format was accepted by an international standards body. Office 2010 for Windows with service pack 2 or later and Office 2011 for Mac comply strictly with the standard. Office 2008 for Mac and 2007 and 2010 for Windows prior to service pack 2 comply about 98% of the way to the standard (there's a very minor exception in Excel). 

"Microsoft also ships a set of fonts with the same names on both Microsoft Office for Mac and PC. The fonts distributed with Mac Office have been very carefully adjusted ("hinted") so documents on the Mac will look and orint the same way as documents using the PC versions of those fonts on the PC. The differences are tiny, but they account for the differences in the way the Mac places pixels on the screen.

"As for having documents be identical when moving from one computer to another there are factors you must consider. This is true PC to PC, PC to Mac, Mac to Mac, and Mac to PC. Microsoft Word is a word processor that has text that flows, unlike a PDF or page layout program. Any difference in font or printer driver from one machine to another has the potential to affect spacing, breaks, window & orphans, paragraphs, etc. To repeat - these changes have nothing to do with Mac to PC, rather they are caused by computer to computer differences.

"Your documents should look the same on the Mac as long as ALL of these conditions are met:

  • The documents on the PC originated in Microsoft Word 2010 with service pack 2
  • The documents were saved in a current OOXML file format in Word 2010
  • The documents used only fonts supplied with Microsoft Office 2010
  • Old versions of the same fonts are not installed or active on either the Mac or the PC
  • The documents are opened on the Mac in Microsoft Word 2011
  • The current versions of the Microsoft Office fonts are active on the Mac
  • The printer driver on the Mac behaves identically to the printer driver that was being used on the PC where the documents were saved.

The behavior of Word is identical on the two platforms, provided the above conditions are met, if you want your documents to look alike when moving from one computer to another - regardless of platform. It's the fonts, file formats and printer drivers that are the sticky points when moving a document from one computer to another regardless of platform."

Rules of Thumb

Having said all this:

  • It’s a totally moving target.  Every patch Tuesday, something changes.
  • Network Templates "Don’t" work in Mac Word. Due to multiple bugs in the file path resolving and handling mechanism, templates in network directories should not be shared between PC Word and Mac Word. For a long and happy life, copy the templates locally to the user's My Templates folder on the Mac.
  • Ribbon Customizations are not available in Mac Word. They will be silently ignored, unless done in code, where they will blow up.
  • Mac Word can use ONLY TrueType fonts and OpenType fonts with TrueType outlines.  Other fonts will not appear/work or occasionally, crash.
  • The color table is markedly different between Mac and PC (and even between PowerPoint and Word/Excel on the Mac). Generally Mac Office has a wider gamut, but Mac monitors have a very different gamma. Unless you are prepared to create color profiles and carefully color-match every device in the chain on both the PC and the Mac, just accept that colors are going to look quite different. It is expensive and time-consuming to fix this, and you will never get it perfect.
  • Various commands in Mac Word exist only in the menu bar, which Mac Word still has, or on the toolbars that Mac Word still has.  Toolbars remain customizable in Mac Word.
  • The same physical printer will often produce different results from the same document depending on whether the printer driver is on a Mac or a PC.  If the printer driver is running on a Print Server, results will be closer (but remember: the fonts are different!).
  • Design for the Difference, Design for Re-Flow.  Do not use hard page breaks anywhere.  Minimize section breaks.  Use paragraph properties to manage pagination.  Assume your user is going to throw an A4 document onto a US Letter paperstock, or vice versa.  Assume that a Mac will reflow text by about half a per cent.  The people who have real trouble are the ones that have used floating text boxes and spaces to try to line things up: that will produce word-salad.  Tossed word-salad…
  • Jim says "The text-flow problem is the same as you will find moving from one PC to another where font versions and default printer driver are different. The fonts provided by Microsoft should provide smooth cross-platform sailing provided the same version of each is the active version on all machines involved."

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). 

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:


Fonts Can be a Problem

On the PC, you can use characters with impunity: if the PC does not have the font, it 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 each character that you use exists in one or more of the Unicode fonts your recipient has. If in doubt, for PC compatibility, use only the fonts that Microsoft supplies.

Microsoft includes a pack of fonts with Mac Office that have been very carefully hinted to display and print the same on the Mac as the same-named fonts do on the PC.  Although the Mac can happily use PC fonts, the rendering of those may be subtly different, particularly on the high-res Mac displays.

Jim Gordon reports that he has no problems at all with the following list of fonts:








Times New Roman



Jim says "Office for Mac has a very nice feature to make font compatibility a cinch. When you choose a font using the Home tab of the Ribbon, the first item in the list is Font Collections. The easy way to ensure compatibility is to choose fonts from the Windows Office Compatible font collection submenu.

"If you have company specific fonts they must be installed onto each Mac in order for Mac Word to use them. There is no work-around to the restrictions John mentioned. Fonts embedded by Windows Word are ignored.

"I haven't had problems with cross-platform differences with our HP, Epson, and Lanier printer drivers, but we do test for differences before purchasing so that we don't run into such problems.

While there's no interface on Mac Word to make Font Themes and Color Themes (you can do it in PowerPoint, or with VBA), Themes made on PCs will work on a Mac.

The Advanced Typography settings you can apply in Mac Word will display in Windows Word, but there's no Advanced Typography interface in Word for Windows, so you have to use Mac Word for this feature.


VBA a Level Behind

The VBA level in Mac Word is markedly less capable than in PC Word: around the level of Word 2003 but with missing bits.

Visual Basic for Applications on the Mac is at version 6 (on the PC, this is Word 2000 level of VBA); Word 2013 on the PC is at version 7.  Code you write on the Mac will run on the PC if you are careful.  Expect code you write on the PC in Word 2000 or above to generate compile- or run-time errors on the Mac.

Active-X controls will not work on Macs. "Legacy" controls will work. Some of the latest controls from 2103 won't work on a Mac.

Developers should read George Clark's article for more detail.

ActiveX is not supported on the Mac at all.  If you create userforms, use only the controls provided in the Forms Toolbar on the Mac, anything else you bring from the PC will generate an error when the user opens the document.

Digital Signatures are not supported on the Mac, and neither is code signing.  You will not be able to open a signed project in Mac Word.  If the signature prevents you from changing a macro, the code will be execute-only on the Mac.

AppleScript is not available on the PC.  VBA is very powerful: investigate scripting your application from AppleScript with VBA, using the "Do Visual Basic" command.

The VBA Integrated Development Environment is severely cut back on the Mac.  If you plan to develop much VBA, invest in a copy of Virtual PC: the productivity you gain is enormous.  Hint:  Use Windows 7 and NTFS disk format.

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