The Ditch Microsoft Office for Mac Challenge

I am going to take a quick break from WordPress related topics to discuss a new challenge I have set for myself in hopes of proving that it would be possible for my employer to ditch Microsoft Office in favor of an OpenOffice alternative. It’s easy to say that OpenOffice can replace Microsoft Office, but it’s quite another thing to prove it and be able to back up your claims. So for those of you who have thought about it, but don’t have the time to do a full suite of testing yourself, I hope you might find this useful.

The Challenge:

  1. Stop using the following Microsoft office products: Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
  2. Any suitable alternative(s) to Microsoft Office must be cross-platform compatible (i.e. Mac and Windows).
  3. Share and collaborate transparently with other people who may be using Microsoft Office products.
  4. Alternative(s) must be free or significantly less than a license of Microsoft office.
  5. Alternative(s) must be stable enough and user-friendly enough for end-user adoption.

I started my challenge on February 2nd after doing an analysis that would cost between $10,000 and $15,000 per year for upgrades and new licenses of Microsoft Office 2010. Let’s face it, times are tough and that’s not an insignificant amount of money. I’m a big believer in dogfooding, so I figured before I can recommend ditching Microsoft Office I would need to try it out myself for a while. So the 1st thing I did was go to and download the latest version for Mac.

It started out very promising. Files opened without incident and it looked pretty sharp. I was even able to quickly set my computer to open files associated with Microsoft Office with the new OpenOffice.  But things took a significant turn for the worse once I had to start working on files that I share with other people using Microsoft Office. In fact, the OpenOffice version of Excel, Calc, crashed between 15 to 20 times working on just one file that I received from our finance department. Not only did it crash repeatedly, but OpenOffice has this rather annoying file recovery Wizard that pops up every time it crashes. In principle, this seems like a good idea, but of those 15 to 20 crashes the wizard only recovered the file once or twice without crashing again; and only one of those recoveries that succeeded actually had the correct version of the file (without any lost work). Keep in mind, I wasn’t doing anything particularly challenging with the given spreadsheet. At one point it crashed 4 times in a row while I tried to change the highlight color of a few cells. I gave up.

To be honest, I thought my challenge was going to be over before it even started, but on the advice of a few friends I did some additional searching for some better Mac alternatives. I was able to find two other options, LibreOffice and NeoOffice. I eventually settled on NeoOffice for the simple fact that it appeared to be the most Mac specific port of OpenOffice. The newest version even incorporates many of the new the features of Mac OS X Lion, including full-screen, versions, and resume.  To my knowledge, the latest version of Microsoft Office does not even support those things.

The latest version of NeoOffice requires a donation for the download. I figured that as long as my testing went well I would be more than happy to spend $10 for the download, but for the time being I decided to stick with the free version, 3.2.1.

So far, after about a week of testing, I am blown away by the quality of NeoOffice. I was able to work on the finance spreadsheet with ease and send it back to the Microsoft Excel user who was none the wiser. I was even able to share a word document that needed comments with “track changes”. While I was unable to find the track changes menu or option, it automatically began tracking changes without any intervention on my part, which I considered to be fantastic!

So far, my only gripe with any version of OpenOffice is that they don’t seem to support .xlsx, docx, or .pptx saving. In other words, it’s no problem to open those file types, but they can only be saved back into the older Microsoft Office formats. While not a major issue for me, it could be a problem in certain environments.

I would love to hear from other people who have tried the same thing or are currently struggling with the same problem. If you have any tips or tricks, please share them in the comments. I will report back in the coming weeks with my additional findings. I’m also hoping to do some testing on the Windows side, but I’m not as concerned with the stability of OpenOffice on Windows as I am with the Mac.


  1. aminfosystems on March 3, 2012 at 4:22 am

    I’ve tried to do this as well. I hate that I need anything ms related on my mac. With 8gb of ram I still have issues on my mbp with office every now and then, including but not limited to lag. It does work for the most part though.

    I have been thinking of going to google docs but its horrible having to keep downloading and uploading files. iWork is another alternative but there are so many small issues with the software that it bothers me to use it as my main office suite.

    • doug on March 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Yeah, I like iWork but only if I’m working on my own stuff. Doesn’t work well for sharing and working with others. I’ve been really happy with Neo Office so far. Hope to post more in the next couple weeks. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Jacqui on March 5, 2012 at 5:10 am

    Our company moved to OpenOffice years ago, without problems or regrets. I’ve only kept Microsoft Office for some client work (the formatting of complex documents gets a bit messed up sometimes in OpenOffice) and one particular feature in Excel (ability to intersect named ranges). But since I moved to Mac OS X Lion, I’ve been very frustrated. Both OpenOffice and LibreOffice crash repeatedly. It seems this is actually a problem with Mac OS X 10.7.2, because a colleague who runs Snow Leopard hasn’t had any problems. What are you running? I’m going to try NeoOffice.

    • doug on March 5, 2012 at 8:16 am

      Thanks for the feedback regarding your use of OpenOffice. Nice to know there are others out there. I’m pretty sure we will do the same thing as you insofar as we will maintain a few Microsoft Office licenses for particular use cases, such as the finance department. But otherwise a document is a document and a spreadsheet is a spreadsheet for just about everyone else.

      I am currently using Snow Leopard on my test machine. But Neo-Office has a Lion specific version. It costs $10 to download and I haven’t gotten around to testing it yet. But given how stable the Snow Leopard version is, I’m very hopeful for similar experience. The cool thing is that it includes lots of Lion specific features that even Microsoft doesn’t support yet.