Office 2008 for Mac sports a series of usability enhancements that should make it easier for users to create nice-looking word-processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications. In this regard, Office 2008 has a lot in common with iWork '08, which is focused principally on usability.
In Word 2008, for instance, I noted the addition of a "publishing layout view" in which I could work with a variety of predesigned templates for creating brochures, flyers, newsletters and the like. Word's formatting palette has been beefed up to let users customize documents by changing font size and style, bullets, border and paragraph styles; and tapping into other features such as an object palette, citations, scrapbook and compatibility report tools. Users will notice, however, that the Office 2004's spate of irksome floating palettes are no more, with most of the functions now positioned on the menu bar at the top of the document.
Word's newly introduced Document Elements toolbar helps users preview the predesigned cover pages, tables of contents, headers, footers, etc. available to them. Similarly, Elements Gallery gives users quick access to tools such as OfficeArt, which work in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and give users the ability to add more three-dimensional and animation effects to their presentations.
The most significant addition to Excel 2008 is that of Ledger Sheets, a library of preformulated templates that help users create different styles of invoices, payroll documents, budgets and reports. Ledger Sheets allow users to get rolling right away with formula-enhanced worksheets. For instance, I tested out an invoice template with all the needed formulas in place.
Another Excel 2008 feature that spreadsheet beginners should appreciate is the application's handy Formula Builder tool, which appears as a floating toolbar and provides a comprehensive list of all of Excel's formula functions. For example, if you click on SUM, you are provided with a definition "adds all the numbers in a range of cells," the syntax and an "arguments" section where you can manually enter the set of numbers you wish to analyze. The content in the Formula Builder corresponds with the information in the formula toolbar located at the top of the worksheet, so users can see how formulas translate from the builder to their active data set.
While testing PowerPoint 2008, I was impressed by the product's SmartArt Graphics tool. Using this feature, which is also accessible from Word and Excel, I was able to create a flow chart in my presentation by first selecting from a variety of predesigned cycle, process or hierarchy layouts. I chose a design from the cycle process titled "block cycle," which laid out rectangular blocks illustrating a circular flow of tasks. Then I was able to add text to these blocks via a text pane that handily opened once I'd selected a cycle design.
I was also able to add custom animation to the presentation with the help of a custom animation pane, which allowed me to select effects for tweaking the entrance, exit or emphasis characteristics of objects in my presentation. For instance, I chose to have my block cycle diagram "grow and turn" on to the page, and then exit the page by sliding down the screen.
eWEEK Labs Technical Analyst Tiffany Maleshefski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.