Docx on a Mac: still rough without Microsoft Word

I’ve been living on a Mac recently, while thoroughly investigating the new Snow Leopard. One of the questions that interests me: how difficult is it to use a Mac in a Windows-centric environment? Once facet of this is Microsoft’s latest document formats, introduced with Office 2007: docx, xlsx and pptx. What if you get sent one of these, and don’t have Mac Office 2008 installed?

I downloaded a document on Azure blob storage from Microsoft – a random example. I opened it in four different applications: Apple’s TextEdit, which comes with docx support built-in; Microsoft Word 2008; Pages from Apple’s iWork 09, and NeoOffice, the Mac-specific port of OpenOffice. In the image below, Word is on the left, TextEdit on the right, and NeoOffice in the foreground.

Word 2008 opened it perfectly, as far as I could tell.

TextEdit crashed on the first attempt. On the second attempt it loaded, preserving the text but losing most of the formatting. Not a bad result, considering the scope of the application.

Pages was the best of the three non-Microsoft applications. It gave me a warning about paragraph borders being lost, but did not mention that the diagrams were messed up (Pages is on the right):

Image corruption in Pages with docx

NeoOffice made a fair stab at the formatting, but included some extraneous characters (you can spot these at top left in the screen grab) and omitted the pictures completely.

As a final test, I used Word’s Save As feature to convert the document to plain old .doc. This opened fine in Pages and in NeoOffice, though I have to say TextEdit gave a mixed result: the formatting was better, but the hyperlinked table of contents came out worse in .doc than in .docx.

Conclusion: don’t send .docx to Mac users unless you are sure that they have the latest Microsoft Word.

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