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.