Excel for Mac vs. PC: What’s the Difference?


Excel is arguably the single most important computing tool in use today. Whether you’re a small business owner making financial predictions for the next quarter or an everyday consumer using it to balance your monthly budget, it’s a valuable and straightforward product that has applications for everyone. Unfortunately for Mac users (though perhaps unsurprisingly), Excel’s functionality differs quite a bit depending on whether you’re using a Mac or a PC


Despite the fact that Macs are becoming increasingly important in the enterprise space, Excel for Mac is simply not the same caliber as Excel for Windows. We often recommend that if your primary computer is a Mac, you’re better off using Parallels Desktop 7 to run Excel for Windows on your Mac than to simply use Excel for Mac. Otherwise, you’ll either be giving up key features (which we’ll explain below), or splitting your work between two computers—a PC when you need to run Excel, and a Mac for everything else. 


The more Mac use in the enterprise grows, the more discussion we see about the differences between using the Windows and Mac versions of Excel. Excel for Mac does have some basic modifications and is missing a few high-level features essential for business use. Here’s what you need to know:


  • No pencil-and-eraser tools for selecting borders
  • You may or may not be able to paste text from external applications into merged cells
  • No MS SQL OLAP Cube access
  • Less robust PivotTable functionality: no high-end features like Slicers or built-in database connectivity
  • No PowerPivot add-on for large data sets
  • Slightly different menu-item shortcuts due to differences is user interface conventions
  • Pressing the slash key in Excel 2011 for Mac does not jump the focus to the menu bar
  • Less support for plugins, in general

As many consumers and business users online point out, there’s simply no comparison if you’re doing serious financial analysis. The missing functionality in Excel for Mac means for most people that Excel for Windows is really still their only option. As a work-around, Mac owners are using Excel for Windows on their Mac by running Windows as a virtual machine through Parallels Desktop 7. With Parallels, you can run two different operating systems (iOS and Windows) at the same time, on the same computer. It saves you the trouble of switching operating systems or buying a second PC. 


Check out what users are saying online:








What other differences have you noticed between Excel for Mac and Excel for Windows? Do you think they’re comparable?