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Why Office for Mac will never match Office for Windows.

Office for Mac users yearn for the day when their software matches ‘feature parity’ with Office for Windows. “Two platforms, One Office” is the dream. But is it possible or even likely?

We’re inspired by this tweet from José Rodríguez-Suárez.

If Microsoft responds, we can predict what they’ll say, because its the same line they’ve trotted out for two decades.  Microsoft is “fully committed to Office for Mac” and “working hard to improve Office for Mac”“great things to come” yadda, yadda … blah, blah blah. 

Vague promises with no deadlines or Same old song, different decade.

There are two small glimmers of hope that Outlook for Mac users can hold onto, more on that in a moment.

Don’t blame the messenger ….

Mac feature parity isn’t in Microsoft’s corporate interest

First the hard reality that guides Microsoft’s attitude to the Mac version of Office, even though they’ll never say it publicly.

Though there’s now more common code between Windows and Mac versions of Office, adding Office for Windows features to Office for Mac is a lot of work. That especially applies to Outlook which has a very different database system in Windows (PST/OST files) that can’t work on a Mac.

Mac users only represent about 6-10% of computers (there are different stats in that range) with Windows taking up the lions share of the market.  That means Microsoft gets more value from development for their Windows apps than any other platform.

And Windows is also Microsoft product. It’s very much in Microsoft’s interest to ensure that Windows is superior to other platforms and that includes making Office for Windows the best and most feature-rich version of Microsoft Office.  There’s nothing new in this, Microsoft has been perusing the same Windows and Office cross-promotion ever since the first Word for Windows.

In short: Office for Mac development more expensive to reach a lot fewer customers.  It’s in Microsoft’s interest to keep Office for Windows as the better version of Office.

Still, there are two little glimmers of hope.  One for Mac Office generally and the other specifically aimed at Outlook for Mac.

One Outlook / Project Monarch

Microsoft has been working on a replacement for Outlook that will work across all platforms.  We’ve talked about Project Monarch before, it’s now called either One Outlook or just Outlook.

The concept is a Outlook like program that works in a browser, any modern browser on any platform.  That means an “Outlook” that works on both Windows and Mac.

This future Outlook would work online and offline, caching data on the local computer for faster and disconnected access.  See Project Monarch or One Outlook to rule them all for more.

There’s no timeline for this app.  Hopefully there’ll be a public preview sometime in 2022.

We’re very dubious about Project Monarch, whatever it’s called. Most likely it won’t have the extensive range of features that the hype is promising. It’s hard to see Microsoft making a truly platform-independent version of Outlook without leaving some advantage in having the Windows version.

If fulfilled, Monarch could deliver parity between Outlook for Windows/Mac. But it’s a big, big IF.

Cloud services are cross platform

The other small ray of light is Microsoft’s focus on cloud services like Focused Inbox, Editor, Linked Data Types and Design Ideas.

Cloud services are mostly platform independent. Once created they are relatively easy to add into apps for different platforms. Cloud features added to Office for Windows usually turn up in Mac, iOS and Android sometime later.

That doesn’t help with the many long-standing missing features in Office for Mac, but it does mean newer features are more likely to be shared across both the major desktop platforms.

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