Office for Mac 2011 promises to achieve parity between the Windows and Mac versions. Over the years, the two versions have diverged, perhaps in the belief that Mac and Windows users are looking for different things. Or, if you’re a bit cynical, perhaps it was to ensure that Windows users didn’t abandon the platform in droves if a full-featured version of Office for Mac became available. Either way, Office for Mac 2011 bring the two versions more in sync with each other, so Office users can move freely between platforms, with little or no need to learn a different interface.
Office for Mac 2011: What’s in the Box
Office for Mac 2011 is available in two editions.
Office for Mac 2011 Home & Student
Includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Available with a single-user license and a three-user family pack.
Office for Mac 2011 Home & Business
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Available with a single-user license and a two-user license.
Besides the core applications, Office for Mac 2011 also includes Microsoft Messenger; Remote Desktop Connection, which allows you to access and share the screen of another computer running Windows; and Microsoft Document Connection, for sharing documents with others.
Office for Mac 2011: What’s New
The big news with Office for Mac 2011 is the inclusion of Outlook as the email client. This isn't a 'lite' version, but the full-featured email client that is widely enjoyed as the preferred mail system on many Windows machines. The only downside is that Microsoft chose not to include Outlook in the Home & Student edition. I guess they assumed that only business users need Outlook and its calendar and contact features. Tell that to a family or student trying to juggle work, home, and school schedules.
Office for Mac 2011 also offers a new, more robust co-authoring system that lets you work concurrently with others on Word or PowerPoint documents. The co-authoring system will work with any version of Office for Mac 2011 or Office 2010 (Windows). The only requirement for sharing is that the documents must be stored either on SharePoint Foundation 2010 servers or, more appropriate for home and small business users, on SkyDrive, using a free Windows Live ID.
Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) makes its return to Office for Mac. When Microsoft released Office for Mac 2008, it stripped support for VBA from the office suite, ensuring that all those wonderful scripts business users had built to automate their workflow wouldn't run under OS X. Well, now VBA is back, guaranteeing complete cross-platform compatibility.
Of course, you don't need to rely on Windows-created scripts. You can create Word, Excel, or PowerPoint macros to streamline your own repetitive processes.
Office for Mac 2011: User Interface
Office for Mac 2011 introduces the Ribbon interface to Mac users. The Ribbon interface has been part of the Windows versions of Office for some time, but it's only now making its appearance on the Mac. So, just what is the Ribbon interface?
The Ribbon is a large toolbar located under the normal menu bar that combines the common toolbars and palettes that most Mac users normally use, including the formatting palette and Elements Gallery, into a more streamlined and dynamic interface.
I say "dynamic" because the contents of the Ribbon can change, depending on how you're working. For example, select a picture in a document, and the Ribbon adds tools for working with images. The Ribbon is also customizable, so you can set it up the way you like. And if you really hate change, you can turn the Ribbon off, or use it in connection with the older toolbars and palettes.
Office for Mac 2011: Outlook 2011
Outlook retains some of the better Entourage features, such as Rules, Scheduling, and the List Manager. But from then on, it's a brand new application, designed to provide the expected Outlook functionality, as long as you connect to Exchange Server 2007 or later with Web Services. If not, Outlook also supports POP and IMAP email accounts, and lets you use calendars, contacts, tasks, and notes stored locally on your Mac.
I didn't have an Exchange email account to test Outlook with, but POP and IMAP performed as expected, handling both my email accounts that use various forms of SSL and my simple password-based accounts.
Importing existing email accounts, messages, folders, and signatures worked as expected. Outlook can import Windows Outlook, Apple Mail, Eudora, and other email clients using the MBOX format, CVS, or tab-separated text files.
Outlook allows you to set up multiple calendars and categories. Creating events was easy enough, but trying to assign different colors to events required assigning categories, such as personal, work, family, and friends, as well. Outlook can't import directly from existing iCal calendars. Instead, you must export your calendars in the .ics format. Once you bring your iCal data into Outlook, you can't sync back to iCal or much of anything else, for that matter. In version 1.0, at least, there's no sync support for calendar events for systems that aren't Exchange-based.
Office for Mac 2011: Word 2011
Word for Mac and Word for Windows now have a very similar look and feel, so much so that you can move seamlessly back and forth between them. I’d even go so far as to say that the Mac implementation of Word looks better than the Windows version, although I’ve been accused of being partial once or twice.
Like the rest of the Office for Mac 2011 applications, Word uses the Ribbon, a tabbed interface that keeps the tools you need just a glance and a click away.
Word has the same six document views that were available in Office for Mac 2008: Draft, Web Layout, Outline, Print Layout, Notebook Layout, and Publishing Layout. Word 2011 adds one more, Full Screen, which drops you into Print Layout and takes over your entire display. The result is the elimination of visual distractions, so you can concentrate on your writing.
To help you get started, Word offers the Document Gallery, an easy way to access Word templates. The Document Gallery displays templates as thumbnails. Click a thumbnail, and a preview displays. In addition to selecting a template to use, you can also modify it by applying a theme before you start working on your new document.
Collaboration has been dramatically improved. In addition to reviewing and tracking document changes, you can share and concurrently edit documents. If you save your documents using SharePoint Foundation or on SkyDrive, you can edit the documents from anywhere using a web browser.
Office for Mac 2011: Excel 2011
Let's start with what may be the most important change to Excel 2011: the return of VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), which brings macro support back to Excel. While VBA is available in all of the Office applications, it's in Excel that VBA was most often used to create easy-to-use applications for business purposes.
New features for Excel include Sparklines, an easy-to-use graph that takes up just a single cell but is a great way to see trends in a range of cells. While you probably won't use Sparklines for presentations, they're perfect for a quick reference, without having to build complex charts.
If need an Excel spreadsheet for a presentation (and who doesn't, at some point?), Excel 2011 offers two different ways to apply themes. The first, simply called Themes, applies formatting, including fonts and colors. Even better, Themes are shared with all Office applications, so creating a coordinated theme in multiple applications is a simple process. The other key to eye-popping presentations is Cell Styles, which applies formatting to one or more selected cells. Cell Styles are remembered, so if you change the formatting of a Cell Style, any cells that use that style will be updated, throughout an Excel workbook.
One of the new features I really like is the Embedded Formula Bar, which is now positioned just above the column heads of each worksheet. That's right; each worksheet has its own formula bar, so you can easily compare cell formats from one worksheet to another.
Office for Mac 2011: PowerPoint 2011
I'm not much of a PowerPoint user; I dabble in it now and then when I need to, but that's about it. That may change, though. PowerPoint 2011 uses many of the Office UI components, including the Ribbon and the Gallery. Both features seem to work even better in PowerPoint. It's not that they're implemented differently in PowerPoint than in other Office applications; it's just that here, they seem made for each other.
As a casual PowerPoint user, the Ribbon, which provides easy access to tools I would normally have difficulty finding, and the Gallery, which provides easy access to pre-designed templates, are just what I need.
Other new features include the ability to embed movies, add effects, and select a movie frame as the static image for times when the movie isn't running. This is a vast improvement over earlier methods that saddled you with a big blank canvas while you waited for the movie to start playing.
Image editing also has some nice new features. One of the best is the Remove Background tool, which lets you grab one element from an image and leave everything else behind. Other useful image editing tools are available, so you won't need to drop out of PowerPoint to perform image editing tasks as you tighten up a presentation.
My favorite new capability is Dynamic Reordering, which displays the layers you created for a slide in 3D view, so you can easily reorder their positions, bring content to the front, or move layers around. This is especially helpful when building an animated slide with multiples layers.
Office for Mac 2011: Conclusion
Office for Mac 2011 is a worthwhile upgrade. Its file compatibility with Windows versions of Office, as well as its similar interface, make Office for Mac 2011 a great choice if you use the Windows version in one location, such as at work, and the Mac version in another, such as at home, or you need to share Office files across platforms.
In my testing, at least, Office for Mac 2011 seems to launch faster than previous versions, as well as open documents faster. Add all of the new features, and Microsoft has a winner on its hands with Office for Mac 2011.
Of course, no software application is perfect, and Office for Mac 2011 is missing some features that I was hoping to see. Chief among them is 64-bit support. Even Excel and PowerPoint, which could make the best use of being 64-bit applications, are still only 32-bit. For most users, 64-bit vs. 32-bit probably won't matter much, but I would have liked to see Office for Mac 2011 at least start the process of transitioning to 64-bit, which would put it in good stead with current and future OS X releases.
My other complaint is with Outlook's inability to sync calendar events with iCal, and its poor import and setup functions. Really, I expected Outlook to not only grab the settings and messages from my current email client (which it can do), but also populate the calendar and contacts with data from Apple's iCal and Address Book applications, as well as keep them in sync.