Mossberg: Switching from Windows to Mac – software not an expensive proposition

The Wall Street Journals’ Walter S. Mossberg answers questions about computers. One question and answer in Mossberg’s Q&A today offers solid advice and information for Windows to Mac switchers:

Q: I am considering switching to a Mac. However, I have hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of software for my PC. Are the new G5 Macs capable of running PC software?

A: When you contemplate a switch to the Mac, you have to separate the concept of your data, or files, from the concept of the programs, or software, you currently use to display, edit or play that data on your Windows PC. The Macintosh, out of the box and unmodified, won’t run your current Windows programs. But it will almost certainly handle all of your data using different software or programs designed for the Macintosh. And most of that Macintosh software is free.

For instance, if you have photos on your Windows PC in the common “JPG” format, which almost all digital cameras produce, you may be viewing them in the “My Pictures” folder in Windows, or by using a program like Adobe Photoshop Album. This folder and this program don’t work on the Mac. But, if you copy those pictures to a new Mac, you can view and edit them in iPhoto, an excellent — and free — photo program that comes on every Mac, and which I regard as better than the Windows photo programs in its category.

The Mac doesn’t run the Windows version of Microsoft Office. But all of your Office documents can be viewed and edited, and new ones created, if you buy the Mac version of Microsoft Office. Even if you don’t, the Mac can read and edit Microsoft Word files out of the box. It can also open and create PDF files without downloading or purchasing any software from Adobe.

In fact, for all of the types of files commonly used by mainstream Windows users, the Mac is able to handle them through its own programs that are generally better than their Windows counterparts. And most of these programs, except for Microsoft Office for the Mac, are free on every new Mac.

Mossberg also covers running Windows programs on a Mac via Microsoft’s (formerly Connectix’s) Virtual PC in his full Q&A here.

The new Mac Mini. Still starting at $499. Free shipping from The Apple Store.
Microsoft Office for Mac Student and Teacher Edition – $149.95
iWork. Imports and exports Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint. Just $79.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s AppleWorks provides Microsoft Word and Excel compatibility and Apple’s Keynote (part of iWork) imports and exports Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. Apple’s Pages (also part of iWork) also imports and exports Microsoft Word documents. And Apple’s Filemaker also imports Microsoft Excel files and Access data and instantly converts Microsoft Excel files to FileMaker databases.

Switching from Windows to Mac? Never forget to ask to “crossgrade” your software. That is, if you’re switching to Mac, ask for the Mac version of your existing Windows software for the upgrade price before you just go out and buy a whole new version for full retail price.

People we meet, almost universally, they don’t know a thing about Apple Macintosh. Most certainly don’t know about the Mac’s high level of compatibility with Windows. A few even still ask if Macs can send and receive email or “use the Internet,” for Steve’s sake! Here’s hoping that Apple wakes up and takes advantage of Microsoft’s malaise by actually getting the word out through advertising that the Mac is quite compatible with other platforms and is the better choice for the vast majority of personal computer users.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Switching from Windows to Mac is easy and liberating – September 14, 2005
More would switch from Windows to Mac if Apple advertised more effectively – September 04, 2005
Windows to Mac switch like repeatedly getting whacked in the face with baseball bat of common sense – September 01, 2005
Students and teachers: going Mac could save you money on software – August 23, 2005
Mossberg offers resources for Windows users interested in switching to Apple Mac – August 18, 2005
Switching from Windows to Mac? Save money by asking to ‘crossgrade’ your software – April 13, 2005


  1. “…. The Mac doesn’t run the Windows version of Microsoft Office. But all of your Office documents can be viewed and edited, and new ones created, if you buy the Mac version of Microsoft Office….

    And, if youre cheap… you can always find Office on Limewire !!

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  2. The Apple Stores have done a really good job of promoting the Mac and OS X to the uninformed masses, but a TV commercial or two should wouldn’t hurt either. Maybe once the Intel Macs are out we’ll see some…

  3. “…Or adding on to Macdude, you can use OpenOffice as an office app…”

    uhhhh yeah …there is always that ….

    but MacDude is another guy !

    ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”LOL” style=”border:0;” />

  4. in theory, yes, Macs can open Word files without MS Word (standalone) or Office. however in practice the methods offered are insufficient for high-level academic or business documents, as often the formatting or tables are messed up, or the pictures don’t open properly. as much as i’m not an M$ fan…Office for Mac reads documents created by its Windows counterpart almost flawlessly, and is well worth the money spent to anyone who does complex documents.

  5. While AppleWorks is supplied on iMacs, it has never been supplied on any of the PowerMacs I’ve purchased over the years. It certainly did not come with my G5. Let me clarify… AppleWorks is not installed on PowerMacs. Maybe it is supplied on an Extras disk and I’ve never noticed because I already use MS Office, et al.

  6. Actually for running VPC and scrapping an old PC, you still own a copy of Windows that can be used with the $129.95 version of VPC (Apple store.)

    Companies making the switch should tell Microsoft to convert their Windows Office licenses to Mac Office licenses, or loose their entire business to OpenOffice or some other alternatives.

  7. There is also a free PowerPoint 98 viewer, but unfortunately, it’s quite old and only works under Classic on OS X.

    Instead of Virtual PC (VPC), another tool people might find helpful if they’re keeping their PC around is the free Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) software Microsoft provides. This allows you to also run Windows from the Mac over a network. You still need a PC tucked away somewhere and it must be running a pro or server version of Windows.

    It is a fairly serious setup for a home, since most don’t have the server/pro editions of Windows software, but there are some advantages compared to VPC:
    – PC software will run on the PC at full speed vs VPC’s slower emulation (due to the way graphics works, this is still not a suitable solution for gaming (neither is VPC), but for other software where VPC is too slow, it might prove to be a viable alternative.)
    – you’ll save money on not buying VPC which usually includes another Windows license fee. You already have a Windows license on the other computer… why not use it??

    – Complex initial setup.
    – You’ll need a network connection between the computers.
    – Needs higher end versions of Windows to start with eg. NT Server, 2K Server or XP Pro, (i.e. NOT any of the XP Home editions or 98, 98SE.)
    – Screen updates can be slow and its only thousands of colours, not millions.

    ps I believe Microsoft Office for Mac costs a lot less if you buy it with a new Mac too vs retail afterwards. Not sure about cross-grades from PC versions, but you can always ask how much they are.

  8. Try Pages (part of iWork) – it’s better and cheaper than all the other word processing applications that work on a Mac and I write technical journals that I am able to add chart, photos, graphics, video and audio seamlessly & easily and end up with professinally created looking documents.

  9. Mac Dood –

    “”…You can always open your MS Word documents in Simple Text….”

    But only if your Word docs are less than 32k … and you’re still running OS 9″

    What the hell are you talking about? You can open .doc files that are a lot bigger than 32k with the OS X version of text edit.

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