In a first look at Office for Mac 2011, eWEEK Labs finds a lot to like and no significant cause for complaint. Office for Mac 2011 marks the return of Outlook for Mac and Visual Basic for Applications to the Apple desktop platform. The office suite, which is only available for Intel-based Macs running Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later, is scheduled to launch on Oct. 26. It includes new versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which have been updated with new image browsing and template creation capabilities. Also available as part of the suite is access to the SkyDrive file sharing service from Microsoft or, for Office for Mac 2011 volume license customers, document sharing features via SharePoint Foundation 2010. Office Web App versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote are now available for Mac users, and document compatibility issues between Office for Mac 2011 and Office 2010 for Windows simply don't exist.
Some people claim that I don't readily embrace change, but they're wrong. I
rush to embrace change when I see a benefit in doing so, but absent a clear
incentive, I stay with what I know works. That attitude explains much of why I
never cozied up to the 2008 release of Microsoft's Office suite for Mac OS X;
the tools in Office 2004 were very well-suited to my needs and there was no
incentive for me to switch. Office for Mac 2011, which is scheduled to launch
on Oct. 26, is another matter entirely.
For starters, the 2011 release includes the return of a Mac version of the
Outlook e-mail client and information manager. I confess that I've been hooked
on Outlook since it first appeared in Office 97 and saw Entourage, its
equivalent for the last two releases of Office for Mac, as a half-hearted and
grossly inferior substitute.
Even though I'm never going to be a serious developer, I'm also glad to see
the return of Visual Basic for Applications in Office for Mac 2011. Many
organizations have committed a great deal of effort to home-grown Office-based
applets written in VBA, and as much as I believe that the future of
applications is in cloud-, mobile- and Web-based tools, the reality of the here
and now means that VBA support is critical if Microsoft and Office are to
remain meaningful to Mac users in the enterprise.
The first thing users will notice when they open an Office 2011 application
is the ribbon interface, which for me has always been a stumbling block in the
Windows versions of Office since its introduction in the 2007 release. I'm
still not completely sold on the concept, but thankfully, it complements the
menu interfaces of Office for Mac rather than replacing them, as it does in
Office for Windows.
Perhaps the nicest feature for anyone who shares documents across different
platforms is the relative lack of compatibility issues between Office for Mac
2011 and Office 2010 for Windows; there may be some features such as the Mac
edition's Publishing Layout view that will only be available on one platform,
but the content itself will work seamlessly on the current version for that OS
In addition, Office for Mac 2011 includes an overhauled template presenter
in Template Galleries; this offers multi-age previews of document templates,
rather than the customary first-page preview, and the ability to modify
templates from within the gallery and preview the changes. Media browsing is
also made easier, with the ability to view iMovie projects, iPhoto libraries
and iTunes playlists from within an Office application, as well as
keyword-based search for media.
Microsoft's Office Web Apps-Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint,
OneNote and Outlook-become available for Mac users in this release of Office for
Mac. Exchange users can access e-mail, calendar and contacts via the Outlook
Web App, while the other Web Apps allow editing of documents saved to Microsoft's
SkyDrive service or a SharePoint 2010 site. Volume license customers of Office
2011 will receive access to Office Web Apps via their company's instance of
SharePoint Foundation 2010, while personal and small-business users have free
access to SkyDrive.
This release of Office for Mac is the first that Microsoft has offered that runs
only on Apple's Intel-based systems; Leopard 10.5.8 is the minimum OS release
level supported. A minimum of 1GB of RAM is
required, twice that of Office 2008 for Mac. The suite will be sold in a Home
& Student Edition made up of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and MSN
Messenger for Mac, and two editions that include Outlook for Mac: Home &
Business and Academic editions. Word for Mac, Excel for Mac and PowerPoint for
Mac will also be sold separately. Although Office 2011 will not be available to
the public until the end of October, Microsoft began accepting preorders on
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.