Office for Mac 2011
Improved compatibility with Windows version; macros are back; fullscreen view in Word is nice; can embed videos in PowerPoint; Outlook is far better than Entourage; interface is improved; faster overall; lots of other improvements.
Price difference between ‘Home and Student’ and ‘Home and Business’ is difficult to justify; Outlook does not sync with iCal.
This week marks the release of Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 (it’s officially available as of Tuesday, 26 October) – and the suite promises to deliver one of the biggest upgrades in its history. If you’re using Office 2008, or indeed holding onto 2004, I take a look at whether there’s enough reason to upgrade to the latest and greatest. There’s plenty new to love – so much so that even iWork users might be swayed. I look at what’s new and how much it’ll set you back. But most importantly, this review aims to help you decide whether or not you should take the plunge.
Office for Mac vs Office for Windows
Office for Mac has never really lived up to the standards of its Windows cousin. Microsoft has tended to treat the two suites as completely separate products, often with little in common other than the program’s names. And then there was Entourage – the Mac suite’s email client that was too different from Windows’ Outlook to even share a name.
With Office for Mac 2011, all that changes – the two suites are now far more aligned than previous iterations, and the Mac version has become a full-featured option for all your document and spreadsheet needs. Not only is it a huge improvement on the past, it’s also become a much stronger competitor to iWork.
Each of the apps – Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and Messenger – has received a significant upgrade in this Intel-only Office (sorry PowerPC hold-outs, you’re left with the old Office). If you’re keen to buy, there are just two versions: ‘Home and Business’ or ‘Home and Student’. The latter merely omits Outlook – which, if you’re happy with Apple’s Mail app and iCal, you probably won’t miss. But if you’re a business user, and hoping for nice integration with your PC friends who send you appointments via Outlook, you’ll have to fork out a bit extra for the Home and Business version.
Office Home and Student will set you back $169 for a single license or $209 for a family pack (for up to three machines); Office Home and Business will cost $279 for a single user or $379 for a multi-pack that allows installation on two machines. That essentially means Outlook costs you an extra $110 (minimum) on top of the ‘basic’ applications – so it’s worth considering whether Outlook is a necessity for your use.
Microsoft has apparently finally realised that Mac and PC users do occasionally interact, and worked on making the two versions of Office more compatible. If you’re an Excel 2008 user, you might be familiar with features from Excel on Windows that just don’t work on the Mac. Probably the biggest missing feature was Visual Basic macros – which went AWOL after Office 2004 – but the new version brings them back. If you’re not familiar with macros, they’re essentially scripts that let you automate repetitive actions – a must for anyone who uses Excel for serious spreadsheeting.
That compatibility goes the other way too: files created in Word 2011 using Publishing Layout can be opened, edited and printed in Word 2010 for Windows, despite the PC version not actually having that same feature (it seems Microsoft has the Publishing Layout on Mac just to better compete with Pages).
What’s new in 2011?
The biggest introduction to the new suite is the Ribbon – essentially a tabbed series of toolbars – which brings together the bits and pieces that were spread between the toolbars, formatting palette and Elements gallery in previous versions of Office. The ribbon was introduced in the Windows version in 2007, and in Office 2011 it breaks up almost everything you need for document editing into Home, Layout, Document Elements, Tables, Charts, SmartArt and Review (plus a few context-aware tabs when they’re needed).
The Ribbon was first met with considerable criticism on Windows, but having gotten used to it on a PC, I think it actually works better on the Mac. It’s a really intuitive, neat way to have everything in one space, and its design fits pretty well with your Mac experience. But if you decide you hate it, it’s simple to go Ribbon-less and use the regular old formatting bar that you know from Office 2008 – just click the name of the active tab, and the whole thing will minimise.
Beyond the Ribbon, Microsoft has generally cleaned up the design of Office for Mac in this new version – which, quite frankly, had to be done. There’s a Template Gallery to open up particular Print, Publishing or Notebook themes; plus, all your recent documents are there in All, Today, Yesterday, Past Week, Past Month smart folders. There are sleek new icons, and all sorts of nice effects you’ll notice if you decide to get familiar with the suite.
Along with Publishing Layout in Word, Office 2011 is looking to compete further with iWork by adding a Media Browser – with all the photos (from iPhoto), audio (from iTunes), movies (from iMovie and elsewhere) clip art, symbols (oddly) and shapes that you could possibly want to cram into your document. All you have to do is drag and drop the media where you want it. When selected, the media adds a Format tab to the Ribbon – it even slides in with a very Mac-like animation. If you embed a lot of photos or videos into documents and presentations, it makes it quicker than ever.
With the new Office, Microsoft has also acknowledged that a lot of people are collaborating on documents nowadays, and 2011 makes it easier than ever. If I were being cynical, I’d suggest that Microsoft’s just trying to keep up with Google’s online services, but the features are actually pretty handy. Collaboration can now be done via Windows Live’s SkyDrive feature (all you need is a Hotmail account, and you can access 25GB of online storage) or SharePoint (which you have to pay for – and is aimed at businesses). To upload a document to the cloud, you just choose File > Share > Save to SkyDrive and enter your hotmail account details. Then within Hotmail (or Windows Live Mail), you can edit the document in a browser, or download it to work on locally.
As well as the changes across the board, there are a few new features that are worth pointing out. There are actually plenty more than I outline below, but these are the most important changes, or things that I found particularly useful.
As noted at the outset, Entourage has been replaced with Outlook, bringing the Office email application back into line with the Windows version. It might not replace Mail and iCal for everyone, but Outlook has certainly become a more viable option than the slow and bloated Entourage ever was. When I set up Outlook, it imported all my emails and settings from Mail, and was up and running within minutes (save for re-downloading a few thousand emails). The layout of Outlook could take some getting used to – especially if you’re more familiar with the minimalist Apple Mail app – but it has some nifty features, like threaded conversations and a unified inbox (for those with multiple email accounts). It also plays nice with Time Machine now – it doesn’t have the same integration as Mail, but it won’t need to back up the entire email database every time a new message comes in.
It really depends how you like to organise yourself whether you’ll be a fan of Outlook. It combines email, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes, whereas OS X’s native apps split them up. If you like everything in one place, then Outlook will appeal, but it doesn’t sync with iCal if you already have that set up and working for you.
One interesting new feature in Word 2011 is Fullscreen view – and it’s pretty self-explanatory. Go into Fullscreen mode, and you’re faced with just your document on a black background. Move your mouse up to the top of the screen, and a partial formatting toolbar appears. I know a lot of other word processors do this, but it’s nice that Word now offers distraction-free writing too. If only it could block out Twitter for a while too.
Also new is an integrated equation editor – Office 2008 featured equations via a separate Equation Editor application, that was clunky to use. Now, just go to Insert > Equation, and you’ll see a new tab in the Ribbon with everything you need to figure out string theory. Well, almost. Here Microsoft one-ups Pages, as Apple’s word processor requires you purchase MathType for any decent equation editing.
Rearranging objects to ensure the right one is at the foreground has always been an annoyance of mine. With PowerPoint 2011, there’s a fancy new 3D tool to get everything where you want it. Click Arrange > Reorder, and a black screen appears with each of your layers represented in three dimensions. Just drag them around until you’re happy. It almost feels like going through backups in Time Machine, and feels right at home on the Mac.
Another feature billed at collaboration is the Broadcast slideshow option in PowerPoint 2011. Previously if you’ve needed to do a presentation online, the best way was to use a screen-sharing tool that would broadcast your slides out to anyone who logged in. With PowerPoint 2011, that functionality is built in; you just have to connect with your Windows Live ID (go to Share > Broadcast Slideshow…) and you get a link that can be emailed to all and sundry to see your work. Once the presentation’s over, they can’t access any of the information – so it’s great if you want to share confidential material that you don’t want to give full access to.
One of the most interesting features – coming from someone who’s watched countless presenters struggle with juggling windows in a lecture to switch to a video and back to PowerPoint to resume the presentation – is the ability to embed movies in PowerPoint 2011. Previous versions linked to the file, but if it wasn’t where PowerPoint expected it to be, the movie simply didn’t play – so if you moved a presentation between computers, you were almost guaranteed to have problems. It’s been a long time coming, and it could be reason enough to upgrade for anyone who does a lot of presenting.
There are probably plenty of people reading this who are still using Office 2004 simply because they use macros in Excel – which were absent from Office 2008. Thankfully, Microsoft has brought back the much-loved macro, and Office for Mac can once again be happily used in a business context. The same is true for pivot tables – if you don’t know what they are, I won’t bore you with the details, but they’re incredibly powerful, and they’re back in force for Mac users to enjoy. (If you’re nerdy enough to enjoy such a thing.)
Excel 2011 also introduces Sparklines – tiny graphs within single cells. They’re handy for quickly illustrating and interpreting trends in data; they don’t replace proper charts, but if you want to see at a glance what’s changed in a column or row of numbers, it’s as simple as clicking a couple of buttons.
Australian Macworld’s buying advice
If you’re running Office 2004, there’s no reason not to upgrade. You get a massively improved interface, and everything that was missing from Office 2008 is back. If you are running 2008, then there’s plenty to gain in the new version too, but it depends on what sort of work you do. If you’re just interested in light word processing or quick-and-dirty charts, then there’s no need to upgrade. In fact, iWork at the cheaper price of $129 might be enough.
Where Office 2011 is a must-have is for business users who need the features that Office 2011 now brings to the table after being somewhat neglected compared to its Windows counterpart. Speaking of Windows, anyone who regularly interacts with or collaborates with PC users on work needs 2011. The compatibility is that much better.
The harder decision in getting 2011 is whether to go for the Home and Student or Home and Business version. The difference will cost you at least $110 (plus the multi-pack for the Home and Business version only has two installs, whereas the Home and Student version has three), but is the only way to get Outlook. Ultimately the decision will rest on whether you need compatibility with Windows Outlook users, or whether you prefer Apple’s simpler Mail, iCal and Address Book apps to do the work of organising your life.
When friends want advice about switching to Mac, one of the big questions I’ve always asked them is how much they use Office and for what sort of tasks. Sadly, their reliance on some functions has forced me to recommend they get a new PC instead. With Office 2011, that’s no longer the case. After playing with it for a few days, I’m happy to conclude that it’s right up there with the Windows version (it even has a few extra tricks up its sleeve for us Mac folk), and should be up to any task from home use to business number crunching.