Review

Microsoft Office for Mac 2011: Home and Business Edition: Review

Ever since Microsoft first announced the next version of Office for the Mac, I have been eagerly waiting for it. The latest Office 2010 release on Windows really improved things to no end for the suite and made Office 2008 on the Mac feel obsolete. Load times were getting longer despite having new hardware and just the general feel of Office 2008 was dated compared even to Apple’s own Pages application.

Office 2011 for the Mac was announced a long time ago and we have been following along the entire time and we now have our hands on the final version. Well I’m pleased to say that there are far more improvements made in this version than even I expected there would be and nearly all of them will be useful to you at some time or another.

Pricing: Probably the least attractive aspect of Office once again is the pricing, which is significantly more than the £49 for iWork. Those able to get along without an extra email client on their Macs can get the Home and Student version for £89.99 with Home and Business adding Outlook for £189.99. Home and Student, and Home and Business, also come in two-user and three-user versions, priced at 109.99 and 239.99 respectively.

Setup:

I have installed Office 2011 for Mac on my recently purchased iMac 27” i7 Machine so this will be a full install and not an upgrade over a previous version.

The installation was a breeze. The full install took just over 10 minutes and there was no restart required or any hitches during or after the setup. To use all of the features in Office 2011 you will have to have OS X 10.5 Leopard or higher.

General Features:

Office 2011 for the Mac now has the new and improved ribbon interface that has been part of the Windows suite for some time. The ribbon brings features together that have previously been spread across various locations like the Formatting Palette and Elements gallery. This helps make things much easier to find and far quicker to use.

Next up we have the Template Gallery. These galleries are dynamic and give you easy access to a load of professionally designed templates and even more online. You can find your custom templates and your recently opened documents here too. They work across Word, Excel and PowerPoint and are your starting point when creating a new document.

The great thing about this setup is that within the Template gallery you can customise the templates by changing the fonts, colours, and even aspect rations for PowerPoint presentations.

Media Browser has also been improved as it has better access to iPhoto libraries and your iTunes playlists directly from the Photos and Audio tabs that are on the Media Browser in Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and PowerPoint. You can even access movies and iMovie projects directly from the movies tab. Some of these items were previously available in the object palette of the Toolbox in older versions of Office.

Connecting with online contacts has been improved in this latest version of Office. You can now share files via the share option in the file menu as this lets you send documents directly to friends online.

In-Built help has also been improved to no end thanks to greater detail and easier access to online help. Welcome screens on first start also give you detail on the new features in each part of the suite and can be accessed again from the help menu if you wish to read through them another time.

To greater help with cross-platform compatibility, Microsoft has improved things once more. Documents you create using Office 2011 on your Mac will still look great and work just as well when opened in Microsoft Office on a Windows computer — as will documents you receive that are created using Microsoft Office for Windows.

Even when features differ, most Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents are compatible with Office for Mac 2011 and Office 2010 for Windows, even if a feature is exclusive to one platform. For example, if you open and edit a great looking Publishing Layout view document that you create in Word 2011 — such as a newsletter or brochure — using Word 2010, your document will once again look great on screen and printed from Word 2010 for Windows. Then, when you save your changes in Word for Windows and next open the file in Word 2011 on your Mac, you will continue to enjoy the full functionality of your document using the rich features of Publishing Layout view. It all works far better than it ever has done before and makes a massive difference to those of us who use Office across multiple platforms.

Saving your files online has some of the best new features by allowing you to upload to SkyDrive or save to SharePoint. When you store your files in a SkyDrive folder or on a SharePoint site, you can view and edit them online using Office Web Apps. You can also edit Word documents and PowerPoint presentations simultaneously with others who use Office 2011 or Office 2010 for Windows. And you can even use Excel Web App to edit workbooks simultaneously with others, even if they don’t have Excel installed on their computer.

Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) returns to Office 2011 with improved cross-platform compatibility. It allows you to automate tasks and extend the capabilities of your favourite Office for Mac programs. It lets you record macros in Word and Excel for tasks that become a little mundane.

Word 2011:

Publishing Layout view has had one of the biggest overhauls in Word 2011. Combining a rich desktop publishing environment with familiar Word features that you already know, Publishing Layout view gives you a customised workspace designed to simplify complex layouts.

Layouts are now easy as drag or drop; from dynamic guides that appear automatically when you need them to static guides that you can place as you please and text that wraps automatically when you drop an object in its path.

Visual Styles: Styles can save you time and help your documents look professional with consistent formatting that’s easy to apply. Colour-coded, numbered style guides clearly show you where paragraph styles are applied while direct formatting guides instantly highlight text that doesn’t follow the active Word style.

The best new feature, and the one I am using right now, is the Full Screen view. It is similar to the one used in Apple’s pages application and allows you to focus just on your document and nothing else around you.

You can select Write or Read mode for access to exactly the tools you need and customise your workspace with an array of background options as well as dynamic page turning effects for reading mode.

Outlook 2011:

Outlook finally comes to the Mac and it is about time Entourage got renamed! So what do we have that is new this year? Well quite a lot actually and it can easily replace Apple’s built in Mail app. Just a note that on my first load up of Outlook 2011 everything imported perfectly from MobileMe, my Pop3 accounts and Gmail without any hitches.

First up we have “Conversations” This feature makes it much easier to keep track of email discussions by turning related emails into a single line item. You will get a little arrow next to the latest email and when you click on it, you get a conversation menu with all of the related emails. It works well, even if I do personally prefer just to get the latest email in my list.

Unified folders have also made the obvious step into Outlook. They keep all your messages from multiple accounts in one folder along with sent files.

Import Outlook for Windows (.pst) files: Yes at last you can now import your Windows based .pst files. This was a godsend for me as I have been waiting for this feature for ages.

Calendar preview: Preview your calendar right from a meeting invitation. Read the request and check the time on your calendar — all without leaving your inbox. Outlook collects your pending invitations, including those that are unopened, and displays them in the preview. A very handy new feature for those on the move.

Dynamic Reordering: Step into the future of document design with the incredible new dynamic reordering tool in Office 2011. Get an instant 3-D view of all layers on your active PowerPoint slide or Word Publishing Layout view page and simply drag to rearrange content.

Picture Editing: New and improved tools for working with images in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel are finally here. Precisely adjust your photos — from background removal to advanced cropping, image correction, and effects — all from within the Office 2011 programs.

Sharing media-rich documents has also been made easier with new picture compression capabilities in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Select from several image quality options and reduce file sizes with ease.

Excel 2011:

Excel Tables and PivotTables: Improved Excel tables (formerly called lists) and PivotTables give you streamlined, intuitive tools and flawless cross-platform compatibility for powerful data management that’s as great looking, as it is easy to use.

You can create a PivotTable with just one click to view your data from virtually any angle. You are able to save time and get right to the information you need with new instant search filtering and multi-select filter conditions for both tables and PivotTables.

Choose from a wide variety of table and PivotTable styles that automatically match the Office theme in your active workbook. Coordinate your Excel workbooks effortlessly with PowerPoint presentations and Word documents created using Office for Mac or Office for Windows, for a professional statement every time.

You are now able to organize your data with Excel tables. Sort or filter on cell colour, font colour, or even the new conditional formatting icon sets.

Sparklines: When you need a visual comparison for numerous pieces of data, use Sparklines. They are tiny charts that sit right in a single worksheet cell, so they can appear right beside their data. It is very easy to create them in just a few clicks and makes everything easy to read, follow, and work out. They are also compatible with Office 2010 on Windows

Conditional formatting: This changes the format of cell contents based on criteria you set. You can use these tools to add rich visualisations to your worksheets. This allows you to get more meaningful results and spend less time manually pinpointing the highs, lows, and other key points in your data.

PowerPoint 2011:

The first and one of the best new features in PowerPoint 2011 is called Broadcast Slide Show. It allows you to put on a live show without leaving your desk. Faster than arranging a web meeting, easier than getting everyone in the same room — now you can broadcast your slide show to a remote audience with just a few clicks of the mouse

Broadcast Slide Show gives you a URL that you can share with up to 50 attendees. Just send the link in an email or IM and that’s it. Viewers can watch your presentation from their Mac, PC, iPad, or phone — almost any device with a web browser.

You present from PowerPoint 2011 while attendees view the show in high fidelity and in real time from their web browser on a Mac or Windows computer, even if they don’t have PowerPoint installed.

Embed and Format Movies: Embed movies and customise your movie experience right in PowerPoint 2011 with better video and audio controls along with less hassle thanks to the movies being embedded and no longer needing to manage additional files.

Slide Transitions and Animations: This brings your slides to life by improving transitions and animations. There are additions such as 3-D Effects, transition tabs and more motion paths along with other smaller tweaks.

Presenter View in PowerPoint 2011 also has a few new features too. You get a rich set of tools that help you stay easily in control of your presentation, so that you can keep your focus on what you’re there to share. These are multiple panels showing whats up next, notes and more.

Microsoft Messenger 8:

For those of you who use Messenger on the Mac, you will find a much-improved look for the product as well as the video calling. Not much else has changed apart from behind the scenes stuff and some integration with the Office suites with the ability to share documents with people on your messenger friend’s list. It works well and eases documentation sharing if you have those friends online at the time. If not, you can easily email them or share them on the SkyDrive.

    

Final Thoughts:

Performance across the board is much better than the previous Office 2008 for Mac – it seems to make better use of the latest processors as well as load times being much faster and generally feeling speedy which is always a plus when you are trying to write to a deadline.

The addition of the new sharing options makes all the difference to me for getting documents to friends as colleagues as quickly as possible and Office 2011 has made that much easier for just about any user to do. The access to SkyDrive is free for 25gb of access and is fast and easy to use.

The interface is much better than previous years and so much easier and faster to use thanks to the ribbon interface. I know a lot of people still don’t like it as much but I personally do and when moving from Mac to Windows versions of Office, it is nice to have a similar style and interface to use.

The compatibility between Office 2011 for Mac and Office for Windows is great this time round and makes sending documents between people who don’t use Mac’s and vice-versa hassle free. For those of you who want new templates and visual styles along with better media content in documents and presentations too – you can’t go wrong here.

Not everything is rosy though; I have had a few crashes when using both Word and Outlook 2011. First crash was when cancelling an upload to SkyDrive which caused Word to quit, but thankfully Word had automatically saved my documents to the point I had got before the upload was due to start! The Outlook crash was when importing a .pst file and caused a lock up and then I had to force quit. It didn’t happen the next time I tried the same option.

So overall everything here feels like an improvement with some excellent new features. I love the full screen mode for writing in Word, and I also love Outlook 2011 as it feels like a brand new application when compared to the dinosaur that was Entourage. The speed of all of the apps is much better than ever before. Using the ribbon interface comes naturally for those of us who have been used to it on Windows machines and with the option to switch it off for those users who don't want it, you can’t lose.

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