Mac Word Processors and Importing Word Documents

The word processor, Lord of the White Collar World, doesn’t always reign supreme in law school, where note taking is of premier importance. However, a word processor is still necessary, even for those of us who live by our outlining apps. Legal writing and advocacy classes require the creation of documents with sophisticated formatting. Even for your other classes, professors generally haven’t clued in to the wonders of PDF. Odds are you’ll be downloading many class materials in Word format.

This means that whatever their other charms, the ability to successfully import documents that have been saved in Microsoft’s .doc format is a threshold requirement. Unfortunately, despite the claims of their creators, Mac word processors vary considerably in their ability to deal with complex Word documents.

Previously I mentioned the capabilities of Pages ’08 in this regard. Curious if other Mac word processors could meet or exceed Pages, I tried Mariner Write, Mellel, Neo Office, Nissus Writer Pro, Pages, and Word 2004. I took a report I had created in Word X for a class last year and opened it each of the apps listed above.

This is not intended to be an all-inclusive roundup of Mac word processors. I know I didn’t cover them all. If you know of a Mac word processor that does a superior job of importing Word documents, feel free to point it out in the forum.

This is also not intended to cover all possible permutations of Word formats and Word importing situations. I’ve seen enough variations between various flavors of Windows and Mac Word document formats over the years to know that this experiment will not serve as a precise indicator of how well a given word processing app will handle all Word docs in all situations.

Opening a Report Created in Word

I took a screen shot from page 16 of the original Word document, then took screen shots of the same page as it appeared in the other word processors. Note the differences in leading (line spacing), footnoting, italicizing, and screen-only indicators for grammar, spelling, and layout.

The Original Word X Document

Word X document screen shot

Mariner Write

Mariner Write document screen shot

The line spacing in the main body text is tighter than the original. The footer line is black, rather than gray. The italicizing matches well, but some of the footnotes appear with a sans-serif font rather than the intended serif font (Times). This is likely because when I created the original document, I was wrestling with Word X’s styles. It may be that Mariner Write was confused by this.

It would be nice if everyone who drafted a document in Word did so perfectly within the boundaries of Word’s stylesheets. Unfortunately I don’t think I’m the only person who winds up overriding Word’s styles incorrectly, making spot changes to sentences or paragraphs I’ve imported in from a web browser, outliner, or other app.


Mellel document screen shot

Mellel seems to have the spacing and italics about right, but it took all of the footnotes and changed them to end notes. This would not be a problem if it were easy to simply flip a switch in Mellel to make them revert to footnotes. Mellel does have the capability to place footnotes at page bottom or at the end of a document, but when I imported this document, the Mellel setting showed the document as using footnotes, even though it had imported the notes as end notes. Unfortunately, the footnote indicators in the body text also disappeared.

Neo Office

Neo Office screen shot

Neo Office did surprisingly well. Although the spacing between the footnote line was off, and the line itself was not gray, the italicizing and other formatting of footnotes were captured accurately. The formatting of the footnote numbering even closely matched the original.

Nissus Writer Pro

Nissus Writer Pro document screen shot

The footnote line and spacing confused Nisus Writer Pro, as did italics. The line spacing between the body text and blockquote also created a problem.


Pages '08 document screen shot

Pages got the line coloring right but applied too much space above the footnote line. It applied the number formatting, italics, and smallcaps correctly.

Word 2004

Word 2004 document screen shot

Although it sounds obvious, I thought it necessary to test Word 2004′s ability to import from Word X. The document made the transition with almost pixel-perfect fidelity.

Opening A Table of Authorities

I also took a Table of Authorities created in Word X and tried opening it in each of the above-listed apps. Word 2004 nailed it, as you’d expect. So did Pages and Neo Office. Mellel opened the document, but didn’t render the fill-in ellipsis (the ……. between citation and page). Mariner Write and Nisus Writer Pro merely displayed blank pages.

In my admittedly unscientific experiment, Word ruled the roost (one would really have to question the capabilities of the folks at Microsoft if it didn’t), and Pages and Neo Office did very well at importing from Word. Mariner Write, Mellel, and Nisus Writer Pro had fairly substantial problems.

Further Observations About the Contenders

In conducting this little experiment, I didn’t focus on other aspects of the word processors in question. But a few things popped out at me:

Mariner Write 3.7.2

Mariner Write reminds me of a beefed-up version of the word processing module in the now defunct AppleWorks. The emphasis seems to be on providing all of the important capabilities without overburdening the application. It eschews the complex and page layout options that Microsoft has shoehorned into Word over the years, and focuses instead on document production. Mariner Software offers a free trial of Mariner Write, and the standard download price is $49. There is also an educational discount, though the exact amount is not shown on their site. You must use their site feedback form to obtain the educational price.

Mellel 2.2.7

Mellel‘s brushed metal interface at first feels jarring, but quickly recedes into the background. It looks good (to me – your mileage may definitely vary) and puts all the tools you need right where you need them. I really like the format indicator in the center of the toolbar. It shows you at all times what styles have been applied to whatever text you are typing or have selected. This is an app I would love to explore in more detail. If you don’t have a need to accurately import Word documents, you may want to give it a try. Mellel is targeted at scholars and technical writers, and looks like it has a lot behind the hood. It is also very strong in multilingual support, so if you’re not always writing in English, this may be a big advantage. You can test it for free, and Mellel costs $35 for educational users. You can also purchase a Mellel + Bookends special offer for $89. I haven’t tested it, but this may provide a good means of creating Tables of Authority, an issue that often crops up in law-related discussions of word processors.

Neo Office 2.2.1

Neo Office is a Mac-specific port of the Open Office suite. Open Office is an Open Source replacement for Microsoft Office, and the word processing component reflects this goal. The same “everything but the kitchen sink” approach used by Word is mimicked in Neo Office. Although the interface isn’t very Mac-like, and it is the most sluggish of the word processors I examined, Neo Office does an excellent job of importing Word documents. The bottom-up approach taken by the Open Office and Neo Office teams makes for a less polished product, but it also seems to have led to a product with excellent Word compatibility. Neo Office is free, but the developers make it all happen with donations, so they’re appreciated.

Nisus Writer Pro 1.0.1

Nisus Writer Pro has a polished interface and like Mariner Write doesn’t go overboard trying to be all things to all users. It also provides support for a wide range of languages and supposedly ties in with Bookends and EndNote for management of bibliographies and references. It also uses the nearly universal RTF format as its native document format, which means documents exported from Nisus Writer should be easily imported by other word processing apps. I haven’t tested this, however.

Nisus Writer Pro costs $79, while Nisus Writer Express costs $45. I haven’t tested the Express version. As with Mellel, if you don’t need to deal with complex Word documents, Nisus Writer is worth a look.

Pages ’08

I reviewed Pages ’08 a week ago and don’t have much to add here. I was surprised that Pages did such a good job importing Word documents, particularly because the earlier version of Pages never impressed me in that department.

Word 2004

I’ve done fine with Word X for years, and even after another Word 2004 another test drive, I don’t see any need to upgrade. It does open a wide variety of Word documents perfectly, but as old as it is, Word X has never given me any serious issues in that regard. Word 2008, however, looks like it will provide a real departure from previous versions when it appears in early 2008. The Microsoft Office 2008 preview site promises big interface, but perhaps most importantly for law students:

Bibliographies have always required memorizing rules and formatting text. Time better spent on polishing your ideas. Now, just access the Document Elements Gallery to easily and intuitively manage citations in your documents’ bibliographies.

I’m not sure what that all means, but in a few months we’ll know.


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  1. [...] Schmidt vom englischsprachigen «Mac Law Students»-Blog hat kürzlich zahlreiche Mac-Anwendungen im Bezug auf den Import von Microsoft Word-Dokumenten verglichen und kommt zu folgendem Fazit: In my admittedly unscientific experiment, Word ruled the roost (one [...]

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  4. [...] Schmidt vom englischsprachigen «Mac Law Students»-Blog hat kürzlich zahlreiche Mac-Anwendungen im Bezug auf den Import von Microsoft Word-Dokumenten verglichen und kommt zu folgendem Fazit: In my admittedly unscientific experiment, Word ruled the roost (one [...]

  5. [...] Schmidt vom englischsprachigen «Mac Law Students»-Blog hat kürzlich zahlreiche Mac-Anwendungen im Bezug auf den Import von Microsoft Word-Dokumenten verglichen und kommt zu folgendem Fazit: In my admittedly unscientific experiment, Word ruled the roost (one [...]