Ever since Microsoft launched Office 2004 for Mac, users have loudly demanded full Exchange support from the suite's e-mail client, Entourage-a reasonable request considering that the suite's reason for being boils down to enabling users of Apple's computers to interface as seamlessly as possible with the wider Windows world.
And yet, after four years of development, Microsoft's Office 2008 for Mac still sports an e-mail client that's crippled compared to its Windows-based sibling, Outlook, lacking key support for Tasks and Notes synchronization, .PST file importing and Public Folders access.
What's more, while Office 2008 for Mac adds support for Microsoft's now year-old OOXML (Open Office XML) default file format, and still handles Word, Excel and PowerPoint better than Apple's iWork or Sun's OpenOffice.org suites, Office 2008 has regressed somewhat in file format compatibility by dropping support for Visual Basic macros.
However, setting those major missteps aside, Office 2008 for Mac should prove a worthwhile upgrade for many companies, if for no other reason than the suites new support for Apple's universal binary format, which enables Office 2008 to run natively on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs. On Intel hardware, Office 2004 for Mac runs in emulation mode, which has earned the suite a reputation for being excruciatingly slow.
What's more, in my tests, I found that Office 2008 has picked up some worthwhile new usability-boosting features, such the suite's Elements Gallery, SmartArt Graphics and OfficeArt tools-each of which makes it easier for users to produce sophisticated-looking documents.
Depending on your point of view, another benefit (or drawback) of Office 2008 is the absence of the hotly debated "ribbon" user interface that debuted in Office 2007. Instead, Office 2008 organizes certain functions in tabs and stashes the bulk of its capabilities in familiar drop-down menus, such as File, Edit and View.
Overall, though, the puzzling absence of full support for Exchange and the lack of support for Visual Basic macros, both of which detract from Office 2008's basic mandate for providing Windows-world compatibility for the Mac, will make it tough for many to afford this product's hefty $400 price tag ($240 for the upgrade version) in the face of Apple's $79 iWork '08 and the free e-mail and personal information management (PIM) tools that come bundled with OS X.