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Official Word (pun intended): STILL No RTL Text Support in Office:Mac (2011)

Over at the MacMojo blog, the Microsoft Office for Mac team has officially announced that Office 2011—and most significantly, Word 2011—for the Mac will not handle right-to-left text. This means no Unicode language support for anyone writing in languages such as Hebrew and Arabic. So, not only does Word remain fairly useless for native speakers of these languages, but it also has significant impact on any Mac users who are engaged in biblical, Middle Eastern, and Ancient Near East studies.

The announcement itself was sandwiched between two other announcements about language support in the post, "Добро пожаловать ! Zapraszamy ! (And I know I've spelled this right!)." The post itself is written to be a bit lighthearted, but clearly the big news is that yet again, Mac users still do not have RTL support, meaning the Mac version of Word plays second fiddle to the Windows version. Yes, Windows users, feel free to gloat. This is one instance where Windows users have an advantage.

There are other alternatives on the Mac, including Mellel, but Word is such a universal format, used both in the academic and non-academic world that this exclusion continues to put Mac users at a disadvantage, especially those engaged in biblical studies. While a Mac user can request a PDF file from a Windows user who includes Unicode Hebrew in a document, obviously, such a request precludes direct collaboration on a file between users of the two platforms.

What I found most interesting is that  Microsoft's Mac Business Unit managed to blame Apple for the lack of RTL support in their announcement:

Office 2011 relies on the Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging (ATSUI) as the set of services for rendering Unicode. Due to technology restraints on the text input tools, Office for Mac’s Unicode support doesn’t include languages such as Hebrew and Arabic.

Okay, I'll be honest. I really don't understand half of that. But here's what I do understand: RTL language support is fully supported in specialty word processors on the Mac such as Mellel as well as a host of other programs. Heck, it's even supported here in Safari, where I'm composing this post in WordPress.

Hey, Microsoft MacBU: ‏אָבִיךְ הָאֱמֹרִי וְאִמֵּךְ חִתִּית

Look, I'm not anti-Microsoft like some Mac users. In fact, I use Word just about every day. But if this affects you, I encourage you to give the Microsoft MacBU grief over this. RTL support needs to be added as soon as possible. If it doesn't make the October release of Office 2011, it needs to closely follow it with a point update.

It's not as if this is a new issue. In fact, it feels a whole lot like 2005 all over again.

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Reader Comments (11)


August 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRick Bennett

I also use Office every day; and on several machines. I'm dumbfounded that the basic Office package has no e-mail and the reduction in the number of machines you can install. It looks like classic bait and switch. Or, the price is lower, but not really.

August 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPedro Paramo

If you look at the history of Office on both Mac and Windows say for the last decade or so, you will see that the Windows version is always more fully featured. This is by design, as I am sure Microsoft wants you to buy Wintel. So the Mac BU does just enough to keep the hounds at bay, and the revenue stream flowing.

August 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterarw

How disappointing! I had used MS Office back in the Word 5 days, but moving to OS X was not the time to upgrade Office. Since I write theological papers, there needs to be support for Hebrew. I use Mellel, which is rock-solid. But how can MS justify such an omission. Sad, sad, sad.

August 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRich

You were right to mention Mellel, but you should add: Nisus and Text Edit and and NeoOffice and OpenOffice. All of them support RTL.

So, it is not a big story, technically, to introduce RTL support. But, the true story is the objection of Microsoft Israel to add RTL support to Office because they are afraid of competition in a market conquered by them.

One more point to blame. Apple itself refrains from adding RTL support in their iWork suite. So, Apple, shame on you.

August 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrik

*everyday* is a typo, right?

Because *everyday* is an adjective.

MacOSX Dictionary:

USAGE The adjective everyday, 'pertaining to every day, ordinary,' is correctly spelled as one word (: carrying out their everyday activities), but the adverbial phrase every day, meaning 'each day,' is always spelled as two words ( | it rained every day).

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIan Goss

Word 2011 beta 2 for Mac had a fairly decent RTL support! It actually worked quite well! However, beta 3 onwards proved to be more and more RTL-unfriendly...

Seems like a marketing decision rather than a technical one.

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramit

Ian, while I am aware of usage for everyday, I appreciate your pointing my error nonetheless. I mark such mistakes on my students' papers, but as I always suggest to them that it's often a good idea to have someone proofread their work because they know how it's supposed to read and will not see mistakes such as these.

Therefore, the mistake is my wife's fault. Obviously, Kathy has not proofread my post because she's usually very quick to point out my errors :-)

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

I've got Mellel but haven't done any RTL in it yet. Just for the fun, I fired up the freeware Bean RTF processor and pasted Gen 1:1 BHS from Accordance into it. Looks OK. Maybe that might be a workaround for those still drinking MS KoolAid.

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike

This is very disappointing news. I use the Office for Mac suite daily and really hoped with their focus on developing Outlook for Mac that we would begin to see more feature parity between the platforms!

August 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonovan

It could have been a wonderful product for hebrew mac users. :|

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMacpire

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