Mac users in Israel, and probably in many other countries, have long experienced befuddlement and frustration to find that the Mac version of Microsoft’s market-dominating Office suite doesn’t support right-to-left languages like Hebrew, Arabic or Farsi. Now it’s clear that even the next version, Office for Mac 2011, won’t support right-to-left languages.
Over the years, many right-to-left compatible Mac alternatives to Office have been identified. Some, like OpenOffice and Google apps, are not at all Mac-specific and consequently don’t strive to deliver the Mac experience, but are intended to replace and even to supersede the attraction of Microsoft Office by offering 95% of the features for 0% of the cost, with the added feature of stability and opensourcity. Apple’s own iWork suite – which includes Pages, Numbers and Keynote for Word, Excel and PowerPoint – has pretty decent Hebrew support. iWork does cost money, but it has the benefit of being made by Apple and intended only for use on Apple computers by the same people who made those computers. Actually, even TextEdit, which is like Apple’s built-in version of Notepad, can handle Hebrew pretty well. I used it for almost all my writing until recently, when I switched to Notational Velocity – which also does Hebrew and which has the awesome added benefit of storing all my notes in a database and syncing like a champ with an iPhone app called Simplenote. For Mac users in Israel who need serious word processing, another popular choice is Mellel (it means something like phrasing in Hebrew) is a full-featured Mac word processor that’s built with right-to-left languages in mind.
My point is that there are really not that many reasons for a Mac user to need Microsoft Word specifically. I understand the game changes when it comes to Excel, but I’m not a spreadsheets monster so I’ll just point out that Numbers is not as easy to use as Excel but it’s still pretty good. There are only a few reasons that people cling fanatically to Microsoft Word: habit, Word’s market dominance and demand for Word’s advanced features.
Reliance on Microsoft Word for either of the previous two reasons – out of habit or deference to the large Word-using community – are problematic for me. I don’t have Office installed on my computers. When someone sends me a .doc format file, I can open it in any of a half dozen applications, but most of the time, I ask the person to send it again either as .txt, .rtf or .pdf, depending on what he needs me to do with it. 99% of the time, I get no complaints. In the remaining 1% of the time I get an opportunity to educate someone who needs help.
In the rare event that someone needs something that involves a Word feature not available in other programs, I secretly do have Office, but please don’t tell anyone.