Mac360’s resident Princess for all things Microsoft and Adobe is me. It’s not a title I hold dear, but business is business.
The latest business suite from Microsoft to grace my Mac is officially titled Office for Mac 2011. It’s big and brawny, but fast and useful. Office is more compatible than ever, better at collaborating, better at email, better at multimedia, better at automation, and better at being the Big Brother you don’t want.
Putting Fun In Fundamentally Office
An initial, three day view of Office for Mac 2011 left me with a few distinct impressions. It’s fast. It opens faster, runs faster, runs smoother. It’s polished. It looks and feels like a Mac app, not like a Windows cousin.
Office for Mac handles multimedia components better than previous versions.
Word has more editing tools for visual elements. Image editing tools are integrated between Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It’s not iWork easy, but it’s more fun than previous Office versions.
Office for Mac 2011 may be the funnest Microsoft product ever. If you don’t mind a few annoying bugs, and Microsoft’s penchant for increasing clutter in the name of features.
What’s Up Front
What you’ll notice right away is the Ribbon, a Windows tool now integrated into the Mac version. While not a Mac-like interface, it’s a familiar interface, a relatively easy way to use the mind boggling number of tools in Office using the Ribbons well done contextual tab layout.
The negative? Hello? We all use wide screens, Microsoft. Show some innovation and give me a better way to save precious vertical screen space. Oh, while I curse, thank you for the fullscreen mode, which drops the format toolbar with a swipe of the mouse.
Office finally comes with Spotlight integration. Formatting is faster and easier thanks to the style guide pop ups. Still, the whole humongous horizontal toolbar remains overbearing.
Integrated Tools & Eye Candy
All three suite apps handle multimedia in a similar manner, highly reminiscent of iWork. I like Word’s publishing mode and easy access to tools and graphic elements. Speaking of tools, image editing tools are shared between Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, including backgrounds, color adjustments, filters, frames, and resizing of elements.
PowerPoint gets more effects and transitions, including a Cover Flow slide layout look which makes it easy to sort through presentation slides.
Automate & Collaborate
Remember Visual Basic for Applications that seemed to have died years ago? Like another Halloween sequel, it’s baaaaaack. VBA is a powerful macro function that works in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Collaboration is the game with Office, Mac or Windows, and Office for Mac 2011 does not disappoint. You can simultaneously work on the same document with others in your office, including use of Microsoft’s SkyDrive and SharePoint. Sections of a document can be locked and you can view what others are working on, and collaborate via instant messages, video, or voice. This is sweet but you need to embed yourself in Microsoft’s numerous collaborative apps for business.
Hanging By A Common Ribbon
If you know of the Ribbon from Microsoft Office for Windows, it finally made it to the Mac, in all three apps. For Excel, there’s a new workbook gallery with templates, a new and different way to do charts that fit in a single worksheet cell adjacent to the data.
Formatting is easier in Excel but it’s still a spreadsheet. PowerPoint gets the Ribbon and a reworked interface, including better video integration and an Apple-inspired Cover Flow slide presentation element.
Mail Me, Baby
It took me a long time to wean myself from Entourage, Office’s previous effort at email, contacts, and task management. Behold, Microsoft Outlook comes to the Mac, but not in the basic Home and Student version. You have to pay more to get Outlook, but it might be worth it.
Outlook for Mac is very good, and comparable to Outlook on Windows. Emails are threaded, multiple accounts drop messages into a single inbox, but there’s no sync with iCal (which I use) but a decent Entourage data importer (which I no longer use). Actually, Outlook looks better on Mac than on Windows. But it’s still loaded with a confusing array of feature creatures (they breed).
Pluses And Minuses
There’s good and bad but no ugly in Office for Mac 2011. Every aspect feels faster, from opening files, to dialog boxes, to moving elements around in files. Smooth and easy. Office is more complex, thanks to yet more features and the Ribbon. File compatibility appears to be an improvement, too. I opened many Windows files with no problems (something I could not do in the past).
The bad? No Outlook in the Home and Student version.
You have to pay extra for the Home and Business edition.
Worse, Office for Mac 2011 has a draconian product activation system that would make Windows users cringe. If you don’t activate within 15 days, Office just quits. In Windows versions users were given extensions that could stretch it out for months, and even without an activation, Office would go into the dreaded Reduced Functionality Mode.
Bugs? A few, but not as many as I expected. I had a couple of hangs when attempting to load some large and complex Windows-generated PowerPoint files. Ditto for a Word document loaded with graphics. Excel didn’t cause me grief, but I didn’t have any VBA macros to test.
Overall, Office for Mac 2011 may be the best Microsoft has ever done for Mac users. It’s also the most complex effort to date, a rich, confusing and powerful suite of apps that are Microsoft-like in most ways—trying to do everything.