New styling and document comparison features will wow even jaded users.
In the last 12 years, I believe that I've clocked more
time in Microsoft Word than any other non-browser application. In a way, this
is good, because I've become so familiar with its basic features that I've had
more than a couple of dreams starring Word. But even as a heavy day-to-day
user, there's a wide swath of its capabilities that I tap into rarely enough
that in many ways, I consider them to be another application altogether.
It's been several releases since Word could be considered a
mere "word processor," and with the release of Word 2011 for Mac, it takes on
artistic capabilities that put it beyond the role of document publishing and
design; at this point in its evolution, I'm not sure what to call it. After
all, it's good for a lot more than just "writing letters and stuff, yo."
For example, Word 2011 is an excellent tool for creating
simple but professional looking documents; it doesn't have the features of
high-end layout tools that one finds in Quark Xpress or Adobe InDesign, but
what Word does in this area, it does well. The new release offers a new
approach to manipulating the many object layers that exist in a document with
multiple images and text blocks, in Dynamic Reordering. This provides a 3D
view of a page, and allows for easy reordering of objects for proper rendering.
Math equations are a particularly tricky item to represent;
for years, Microsoft has offered the Equation Editor in the Office for Windows
suite, but nothing like it has been available for the Mac platform, until now.
Word 2011 includes equation editing tools as a built-in feature, making it
possible to represent mathematical formulas with a high degree of exactitude.
On a more artistic front, Word 2011 offers a new approach to
text effects. Instead of the WordArt from earlier versions, which treated text
with effects as a graphic element, Word now allows one to apply effects to
text, without compromising the ability to edit or spellcheck; these effects can
also be applied as styles to characters, lists, paragraphs or tables.
Because one of the things that help an organization
distinguish itself from competitors is the look and feel of documents, styling
takes on a new importance in the new release of Word for Mac. New visual style
designations allow users to quickly identify the styles that are applied at the
various points of a document, while highlighting those parts of a document that
don't confirm to the active style of the paragraph. Word 2011 also offers a new
way to easily apply canned styles to a document, in QuickStyles. These are
one-click formatting instructions that users can modify as needed for use in a
custom document template for in-house use.
Document merge and comparison features are noticeably
improved in Word 2011, which offers users the choice of viewing changes in the
original document, the revised one, or in an altogether new document.
Word 2011 shares a number of new or returning features in
common with the other Office for Mac applications, starting with Visual Basic
for Applications, or VBA, which returns to Word 2011 to make it easier to
automate repetitive tasks or apply settings precisely to document sections. New
co-authoring and sharing features allow users to work on a document
simultaneously, or to share a document through a SharePoint server or the
Microsoft SkyDrive service.
Word for Mac 2011 raises the bar for what a document
creation application should do. It puts the user firmly in control of how
documents appear, while retaining its roots as a strong word processing tool.
This release includes a number of features that make it easier than ever before
to design attractive and eye-catching publications; alternatively, if one's
interests are more focused on the text, it's a simple task to make it appear
consistently throughout the document. Although I am on record as saying that the last
thing I needed was more features in Word, I am happy to eat those words, as
long as they're not set in 72-point type.
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 email@example.com.