With the release of Office 2011 for Mac on Oct. 26, Microsoft has made giant strides in making the Mac version of its productivity suite less of an afterthought to the Windows version, and in some ways has nudged the Macintosh version of the suite past Office for Windows.
The applications that make up Office for Mac received a makeover in this release, with the addition of the Office "ribbon" interface. But Microsoft got the ribbon right in Office for Mac; the ribbon supplements the menu commands, rather than replacing them or, worse, hiding them in a barely accessible corner of the interface.
Also new across the board in Office 2011 is a focus on sharing and Web access to applications. Microsoft's SkyDrive service and SharePoint 2007 and later collaboration servers are directly supported as file repositories, and Office Web Apps are now available to Mac users. This even includes the OneNote Web App for free-form information gathering, which leads to the question of why OneNote itself isn't available for Macintosh.
Office 2011 includes Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which Microsoft had cut from the Office 2008 lineup. VBA gives users the ability to record macros in Excel and Word 2011, and offers an editor that runs from within Word, Excel and PowerPoint to create and edit macros.
Other features common to the Office 2011 applications include new compression options for embedded images and media browsing options that offer a unified view of still images in iPhoto libraries, audio in iTunes playlists and video files and iMovie projects. 3D views of layered objects in Word and PowerPoint, coupled with the ability to quickly reorganize those layers, give users more control over the appearance of documents and presentations.
Office 2011 builds in support for presence information and IM, voice or video chat from within Office for Mac applications; these require either Messenger for Mac 8, which is included with Office 2011, or Office Communications Server 2007 R2 plus Communicator for Mac 2011.
This release of Office for Mac marks the end of Microsoft's support for Apple's PowerPC-based hardware; all applications require an Intel CPU and Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later. Given that Apple itself stopped most development efforts for PowerPC last year with the release of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, I'm not at all surprised. What I do find a little bit disappointing is that none of the Office 2011 applications runs in 64-bit mode-although 64-bit support does introduce some complexities, Excel for Mac in particular would benefit from it.
The suite is available through Microsoft's volume licensing programs and is sold for retail in Home & Student, Home & Business, and Academic editions. All of these include Word 2011, Excel 2011, PowerPoint 2011 and Messenger for Mac 8, and the Academic and Home & Business editions add Outlook 2011 to the suite. Pricing for single-install licenses is $99 for the Academic edition, $119 for Home & Student, and $199 for Home & Business; a three-install Family Pack license of Home & Student lists at $149 and a two-install Multi-Pack of Home & Business goes for $279. Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2011 are also sold separately, at $139.99 each; Outlook 2011 is not available in a stand-alone package.
Here are my thoughts regarding the applications that make up the Office 2011 for Mac Suite:
Word 2011: "Word 2011 for Mac Gets It Right"
Excel 2011: "Excel 2011 Pushes the Envelope"
PowerPoint 2011: "PowerPoint Gets Back to Roots"
Outlook 2011: "Finally, an Outlook for Mac"