eBay Purchase #14 – Microsoft Office 4.2.1 for Macintosh

office421mac-1eBay Purchase Price: $48 AUD

Country of Origin: Australia

Condition: Very Good

Microsoft Office for the Macintosh always felt kind of second-rate compared to its Windows counterpart. Microsoft Access never made it, hence no Professional edition available. The exception being with Office 2004 for the inclusion of Virtual PC. The e-mail client changed relatively frequently, whilst Windows users have been using Outlook since Office 97. Within the ‘Office family’ is Publisher, Visio and Project, where the former two didn’t come across to Mac, while the latter was short-lived in the early 1990s.

Interestingly Office’s roots stem from the Macintosh. During the late 1980s Microsoft did well selling individual copies of Word and Excel on the platform, comparative to their PC-based releases. Then in 1989 Microsoft Office 1.0 (originally known as The Microsoft Office) was first distributed, comprising of Word 4.0, Excel 2.2, PowerPoint 2.01, and Mail 1.37 that would run on Apple’s System 6. Five years later would see this version, 4.2, that would generate plenty of resentment amongst Mac users.


Dataflow were a major software distributor for the Australian & New Zealand markets.

This particular copy distributed on CD originally retailed for $199 AUD due to the academic use license. One obvious observation compared to other copies of Office, is that the retail box itself was particularly thin and light, similar to Microsoft Home multimedia titles at the time. No thick 500 page manuals here.

Version 4.2.1 consisted of Word 6.0.1, Excel 5.0, PowerPoint 4.0, and a choice of using either Microsoft Mail 3.x or StarNine Mail as the e-mail client. Variations of the retail packaging were available, where all the manuals and a 30~ floppy disk set were included instead. Internet Explorer 2.1 and Bookshelf 1996-97 were also included in copies marketed towards small business.

During the 1990s I hadn’t used Office on a Mac extensively, stuck with ClarisWorks at school. At home I used Office 4.2 on my Windows 95 PC, so to use the same version on the Mac felt fine to me, but regular users felt differently. Consistent feedback was that Office 4.2 was considered mediocre, mostly due to the user experience and sluggish performance. The applications were a direct port from Office 4.2 designed for Windows 3.1, and for Mac users this was particularly noticeable. The previous version of Word, version 5.1, in comparison was a favourite for many and would run on the original 68k Macs.

write_iconRick Schaut, a software design engineer who began working on Word 5.0 for the Macintosh and later subsequent versions, had written an insightful piece on his blog back in 2004. Although strictly focusing on Word 6.0, I would reasonably expect parts of it resonated with Excel 5.0 and PowerPoint 4.0 development.


Around the same time, Microsoft Project 4.0 was released for both Windows 3.1 and System 7. Again the Mac version was a direct port from the Windows 3.1 copy. There appeared to have been some pressure for their software to be at feature parity between the two operating systems.

Microsoft went quiet on Mac software development, until the Macintosh Business Unit was formed in 1997. This unit oversaw development of the next version, Office 98, which although similar to Office 97 for Windows, was more Mac-centric.

Regardless of using Office 4.2 on Windows or the Macintosh, some notable changes include:

  • The introduction of much more consistent menus and toolbars across Office applications;

Image source: microsoft.com (late 1990s)

  • IntelliSense, which allows for predictive automation of common tasks and data entry;
  • Improved drag-and-drop functionality;
  • Excel 5.0 introduced PivotTables for summarising data and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) coinciding with Excel Basic;
  • OLE 2.0 (Object Linking & Embedding), the ability to link content between documents

Notable differences specific to the Macintosh version however were:

  • The introduction of Word Basic in Word 6.0 – the macro language before it was taken over by VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). Word Basic had existed in Word 2.0 for Windows, though was missed out of Word 5.x for Mac;
  • Out of the box support for QuickTime and AppleScript

It was the last Office available for 68k Macs, and the first to support the PowerPC natively. The minimum system requirements for Office 4.2.1 was for any Macintosh running System 7 that consisted of a 68030 processor, 8 MB of RAM, and 17 MB of available disk pace for the minimal installation. 62 MB was required for a maximum installation, while a 68040 processor with 16 MB of RAM was recommended. On a PowerPC, both RAM and hard disk space needed to be a little extra than this.

write_iconInfoWorld’s November 1994 issue had a brief review on Office.


write_iconInfoWorld’s May 1995 issue revisited Office with an opinion piece by Editor in Chief Stewart Alsop. He felt “Microsoft doesn’t really care too much for the Macintosh anymore”.

off4man-icon Download Microsoft Office 4.2.1 Standard for Macintosh (59 MB)


Office 4.2.1 Standard Box Front-1Scanned image of Microsoft Office 4.2.1’s retail box (front). Click on the image.




Office 4.2.1 Standard Box Back-1Scanned image of Microsoft Office 4.2.1’s retail box (back). Click on the image.

3 thoughts on “eBay Purchase #14 – Microsoft Office 4.2.1 for Macintosh

  1. SoftWitch says:

    Thank you for uploading this, even with those scans. Great! I don’t purchase software packages on Ebay anymore for room reasons. But the retrocomputing scene lives from those purchases and shares. This also helps archiving the software, which really is important. Thanks a lot. Keep up the good work.


  2. Malcolm says:

    Stupid question, but did this work for you?

    I bought this ~15 years ago for $AUD30, and tried to run it on a G3 iMac whose oldest supported OS was MacOS 9.0. The result was pretty much unusable – programs had strange rendering glitches and would crash trivially. I assumed this was because it wasn’t designed for OS 9, and software of that era wasn’t serviced.

    Years later I got Office 98, and ended up throwing 4.2.1 away. Office 98 was the current version when OS 9 was released, and works flawlessly. It was also comprehensive in that the “Gold” version I ended up with was bundled with IE 4.5, Outlook Express, a primitive version of Frontpage, Encarta and Bookshelf.


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