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Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 Review

MICROSOFT Office Mac Home & Student 3 User OFFICE SOFTWARE

Rating: ★★★★☆

Microsoft has also added some thoughtful features throughout. We love the full-screen mode in Word – it’s distraction-free writing at its best. Similarly, the return of Visual Basic for Applications will be reason enough for some to take the plunge and upgrade.

The item reordering in PowerPoint is another nice touch, even though we’d like to be able to edit items and see a live preview as you edit. The Web Apps are a welcome addition too, as is the ability to collaborate in real time online.

The contextual Ribbon toolbar takes its bow on the Mac. As we noted in our Excel review, you can disable it if you’re not a fan, although this does hide away many options.

Here to stay

You get a regular toolbar above the Ribbon, which you can customise in the different apps. Doing so in Outlook was a Mac-like case of drag and drop, whereas in Word, there was a more complex dialog. Ultimately, though, you can’t get by on the old-style toolbars alone – the range of options just isn’t there.

There are still some annoying little characteristics that will grate over time – such as when you click Cancel to get rid of the Document Gallery, it still opens a fresh document in that app. But don’t let these things put you off, because this is a vast improvement over what came before at a more competitive price.

There are two flavours of Office 2011, one with Outlook and the other without. Microsoft has dropped the prices of both compared to Office 2008, so you now get the Home & Student for £90 (only £10 more than iWork ’09). To get Outlook will set you back an additional £100, effectively pricing the mail and calendar client at more than Word, Excel and PowerPoint combined.

For home users, there’s absolutely no need to spend the extra though – so go for the Home & Student edition. Similarly, if you run a small business and are keen to keep costs down, you can use the applications that come with your Mac anyway, such as Mail and iCal.

If you run Exchange servers, these apps will talk to them, and they enable you to manage centralised or shared calendars, so you’ll be able to get by without spending the extra.

Where Outlook will be of interest is for power users who need to manage their own and other people’s mail, contacts and calendars via an Exchange server. Yes, you can do this with Mail et al. But using Outlook will make your life a lot easier.

Microsoft Word 2011

It’s neater and quicker, but how much is actually brand new?

The first things you’ll notice about the new Office are its smart new icons, which are added automatically to your Dock. The second is how fast the apps launch when you click one.

Word 2008 took 12 seconds to display a window on our 3GHz Core 2 Duo iMac, and 20 seconds to let us start typing. Word 2011, once we’d turned off its welcome screen, was ready each time within four seconds. We’re not sure how Microsoft has managed to do this (it’s not by switching to 64-bit code, which it still hasn’t got round to) but the responsiveness continues.

Word 2011 for mac

Selecting a font is less accident-prone: the menu shows previews, or auto-completes if you enter the name manually. You can choose from an even wider range of decent templates, and an expanded set of Themes can be applied instantly to change fonts, styles and colours.

Find your way around

It’s this kind of incremental improvement that characterises Word 2011. There’s a Spotlight search box at the top of each window; any phrase you enter is instantly highlighted wherever it appears. A new sidebar brings together tools to help navigate your pages, and scientists will appreciate the comprehensive equation editor.

Bugs have also been fixed – although we don’t want to speak too soon, we haven’t seen any sign of the scroll glitch that used to regularly scramble Word’s display. Switch to Draft view, however, and the letter spacing now goes oddly awry, distracting from your typing. This needs sorting out.

We found consolation in the new Full Screen option, which blacks out the rest of the screen to let you edit in peace. It looks much better than in Office 2010 for Windows, but where’s the word count? An annoying oversight in an extremely neat feature.

Word 2011 for mac

In other respects, this version more closely resembles its PC sibling. Microsoft has replaced the awkward stack of toolbars of Office 2008 infamy with the Ribbon – a tabbed menu that makes the controls you need easier to find.

But Office 2007 seems to have been the model – Office 2010′s File tab, with its handy summary of document properties, is absent. Reach up to the equivalent on the Mac OS X menu bar and you’ll still find some new options, including Reduce File Size, but not OpenDocument (ODF) support.

Word 2010 for Windows lets you choose this format as the default, in place of Microsoft’s unpopular .docx variety. Mac users don’t get it, sadly.

Spread the Word

What we do share with Windows users is the ability to, well, share. Save a document to your SkyDrive (Microsoft’s equivalent of iDisk) and you can ‘co-author’ it simultaneously with other users.

Word 2011 for mac

Along with Excel and PowerPoint, Word also gets a free cut-down Word Web App that runs in any web browser. Its features are limited, but useful.It’s a shame the Web Apps don’t work in iOS; all you get is a simplified preview.

Microsoft says file compatibility between Windows and Mac has been improved. We found, though, that Office for Mac 2011 wasn’t always compatible with Office for Mac 2008. Text cut and pasted between the two kept some elements of formatting but lost others.

Overall, Word 2011 feels less estranged from the Windows version yet very Mac-like, and that’s quite an achievement in itself.

Microsoft Excel for Mac 2011

The classic number-crunching app gets a new look

There are generally two kinds of spreadsheet users: the first uses spreadsheets as a simple database, creating lists of tabulated data, which they then need to reorder and sort. The other kind, though, is a very different breed – serious number crunchers who need, and use, powerful mathematical functions.

Excel 2011 manages to contain plenty that will please most folk. The most visible of these features is the smart revamped interface, which does away with the endless array of floating palettes that we’ve come to love (or loathe) in favour of the unified Ribbon interface that adorns all the Office apps.

Excel 2011 for mac

The Ribbon is a context-sensitive bar that displays options according to what you’re doing at the time. This is integrated into the main window, so gone are the floating palettes, and you can collapse the Ribbon if you want some extra workspace.

There are other interface improvements, too. For example, there’s a new Workbook Gallery that appears when you launch the app. This includes templates on your Mac and access to online templates too. The fact that you have direct access to an online library of templates, which can grow over time, means this feature beats the equivalent in Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet.

Helpful updates

Previous updates to the Mac version of Excel, Microsoft’s flagship spreadsheet, have largely concentrated on users who use the app for basic everyday tasks.

The Lists feature of Excel debuted on the Mac, and remains unmatched in terms of being a simple way to create, sort and order lists of data. Excel 2011, though, contains plenty of bits and pieces that will surprise and delight the real number crunchers.

Excel 2011 for mac

Probably the most important feature is the return of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which essentially means that proper support for macros, dumped after Office 2004, is now back. If you’re a power user, and particularly one who works in a cross-platform environment, this is more than enough reason to invest in Excel 2011.

Power users will also appreciate the useful changes to conditional formatting, which loses its occasionally restrictive limit of three rules per cell. And the conditional formatting editor has had an update that makes it easier to use for anybody who is just starting with this powerful feature.

With this version, Microsoft has also chosen to meet the challenge of online office suites that are offered by the likes of Google head-on. You can now save your documents from Excel directly over to Windows Live SkyDrive, which is a free service with 25GB of storage that lets you store documents online and then edit them using web-based applications.

Excel 2011 for mac

The web version of Excel doesn’t match the feature set of the desktop version, as you’d guess, but it is fantastic for quick edits and – importantly – preserves the features of any document that it doesn’t directly support.

The verdict

Excel 2011, then, is an impressive upgrade to what was already a solid and established product. The new-and-improved interface removes the clutter of multiple palettes, while the power-user features mean that, at long last, Microsoft Excel for Mac 2011 is the rightful match of its much-applauded Windows cousin.

Microsoft PowerPoint 2011

What do you add to the presentation app that already does it all?

As with Word, PowerPoint 2011 launches so fast you forget to start waiting for it, and the new Ribbon interface does a great job of putting all the features within easy reach.

Flicking between the tabs quickly reveals all the elements and effects you can use to build a show. The impressive range of transitions and SmartArt graphics will largely be familiar to Office 2008 users, but the Animations tab provides more and smarter ways to make text and graphics appear, disappear, and jiggle about in between.

Powerpoint 2011 for mac

Once you get the hang of applying these to objects, making things happen in the right order, and ungrouping SmartArt where appropriate to animate individual items, it’s gratifyingly easy to create slides that Al Gore would be proud of.

There’s also better control over video within shows, reducing the need to break out of PowerPoint. Clips are embedded in your presentation rather than linked, which avoids ‘missing media’ screw-ups but can make for very large files. Flash video still isn’t supported, even though the Windows version handles it.

Power problem-solving

The more complex your slides become, the harder it can be to wrangle overlapping elements. PowerPoint 2011 has a radical solution: select Reorder Objects (under Arrange on the Format tab) and everything on a slide fans out in 3D, a bit like Cover Flow.

You can then drag an item to move it forward or backward in the stacking order. It’s cute, but you can’t select or resize objects in this view, so you may still have to drag them to the front, edit them, then put them back.

Powerpoint 2011 for mac

We were disappointed to find that fonts still can’t be embedded; nor can PowerPoint 2011 read-only fonts be embedded in files from the Windows version. So unless your show will only ever be played from your own Mac, you’ll need to stick to the core Microsoft fonts. If PDFs can preserve fonts across platforms, Microsoft should be able to manage it.

Specially for Mac users, though, is the option to send your slides to iPhoto, if you prefer to build your show there. Like Excel, PowerPoint has regained the support for VBA macros that was dropped in Office 2008, and includes the Visual Basic Editor.

Oddly, though, saving files in the default PPTX format strips out any macros; you have to use special formats to store them. Presentations containing macros are also excluded from co-authoring, the new function that lets you save files ‘in the cloud’ via Microsoft SkyDrive (or a SharePoint server) and edit them simultaneously with other users.

Clever collaboration

As long as your show is macro-free, this is an interesting way to collaborate. And when it comes to presenting, you can instantly ‘broadcast’ your show on the web, visible to any Mac or Windows PC via Microsoft’s servers, as long as your audience can manage without audio, movies and fancy transitions.

Powerpoint 2011 for mac

There’s also a PowerPoint Web App, which isn’t capable of building a show from scratch but could be a life-saver for last-minute tweaks.

Users may be put off at first by some disorienting user interface changes, such as the omission of the Formatting palette. But with even slicker effects topping enormous flexibility, there’s plenty to like in PowerPoint 2011.

Outlook 2011

Email, contacts, calendar and Exchange support with Outlook

Almost 10 years after its introduction in Office X, Microsoft has replaced Entourage with Outlook, a familiar name from the world of Windows. But there’s more than just a change of name at work here.

Outlook 2011 is a completely new application, rebuilt from the ground up in Cocoa. Since this is the future of Mac application development, starting from scratch will enable Microsoft to bring new Mac OS X technologies into Outlook as Apple adds them.

Outlook 2011 for mac

It has also given Microsoft the chance to update the interface. It’s a clean, modern look and feels a definite improvement over its predecessors.

Email, contacts and calendars all use Microsoft’s Ribbon interface, which places a context-sensitive row of buttons along the top of individual windows. It was a controversial change on the Windows version, but it succeeds in presenting the maximum number of options with the minimum fuss, although it can sometimes leave you wondering where a particular one is.

Outlook supports POP, IMAP and Exchange 2007 (and later) email, and setting up an account is quick and easy. If you’re using an email service that it knows about, such as MobileMe or Gmail, there’s little you need to do other than put in your email address and password.

Conversation view

Outlook also enables you to group messages from the same conversation together, regardless of who they’re from. Even thou
h it’s meant to look at more than just the message’s subject line, in our experience, it didn’t. Cue panic as we thought we’d included our best friend and our father-in-law in the same ‘Cheers’-entitled message. After this, we quickly disabled the Conversation view mode.

Outlook 2011 for mac

Searching your messages has been improved, since you don’t have to specify whether to search a particular field any more, though you can narrow it down if you wish.

Changes have been made to Calendars, too. You can, at long last, create multiple calendars, and it retains support for more than one category within calendars too – a powerful combination. Calendars can be local or shared via Exchange, but this is the only method of sharing – there’s no support for CalDAV, which makes using Outlook with Google or MobileMe’s calendars a pain.

We also wondered why there are now two types of event: meetings (which have invitees) and appointments (which don’t).

Another welcome change is the passing of Entourage’s single database. Outlook now uses files and folders for each message, contact and event. There’s still a database, which acts like an index to everything, but if it becomes corrupted, Outlook will quickly rebuild it from the existing files, and nothing should be lost.

This lack of a big database should also mean that Time Machine doesn’t need to create a new copy of a gigantic file every time you receive new email messages, thereby speeding up your backups.

Outlook 2011 for mac

Outlook is certainly a big improvement over Entourage. It’s faster than its predecessor, but still lags behind Mail. The interface is cleaner, and for anyone coming from Windows it’s close enough to Outlook on that platform to be familiar.

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  • Better search and sharing
  • Elegant Full Screen view
  • New, cleaner interface
  • Built-in document sharing


  • Pricey
  • Occasional Outlook bugs
  • Irritating characteristics
  • No word count in Full Screen
  • Unnecessary niggles remain


Overall, it feels good for a first version, although there are the inevitable minor 1.0 bugs.

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