Office for Mac 2011 Due in October; Will It Matter?

Microsoft announced today that the next version of Office for Mac would be available in a little over two months. That's good. Unlike the Windows version of Office, Office for Mac 2011 will only be offered as a 32-bit application suite. That's bad. It will include a full-blown version of

Microsoft announced today that the next version of Office for Mac would be available in a little over two months. That's good.

Unlike the Windows version of Office, Office for Mac 2011 will only be offered as a 32-bit application suite. That's bad.

It will include a full-blown version of Outlook (for the first time in years). That's good.

It will have a version of the Ribbon interface. That's, well, it's meh.

It may have some SharePoint integration, but if it does, Microsoft's keeping that very quiet. If that isn't there, it's terrible.

Now let me explain why I feel the way I do, in what approaches an order of importance.

First, we have the interface discussion: People get very used to interfaces, and vendors mess with them at their peril. Once users become comfortable with an interface, they really don't want to switch. For example, the muscles of my hands still remember the Lotus 1-2-3 menu sequences, even though I'm pretty sure that I haven't seen the classic spreadsheet in a dozen or more years. I only hope that the Mac version of Microsoft's Ribbon doesn't impede my work the way the Office 2007 implementation has; I've been using that suite for months, and I still can't find features that I use until I've spent a good 10 minutes poking at the silly thing.

Moving on, I'm really disappointed that in this release, Microsoft continues to treat its only moneymaker for the Mac platform like a second-class citizen. By refusing to provide 64-bit versions of Office for Mac, Microsoft is essentially telling users to wait for a few more years, and then maybe they can have it. Although I may not have much call for the additional data capacity that 64-bit applications would provide, I know people who do, especially when spreadsheets enter the discussion.

(This is an opportunity for Apple, which has done a very good job of promoting its iWork application suite as an alternative to Office. If Apple wants to make the point, upgrading the next release of Numbers to 64-bit would be a shot across Microsoft's bow. The Mac OS X Mail application already runs in 64-bit mode on supported hardware, so that's already a generation ahead of Outlook.)

I will kick the tires on the new version of Outlook with interest, but that's only because I still haven't found the time to migrate the last 10 years of mail that I have archived on a machine at home from Outlook 2003 to Mac Mail. The only use I've had for Outlook in the last year has been for Exchange integration; this release of Outlook for Mac has to support a broader range of Exchange installations than Mac Mail, or it's going to be kind of pointless.

Finally, SharePoint is the main reason to choose Microsoft Office over OpenOffice.org on the Windows side of the desktop; if Microsoft isn't including better hooks between SharePoint and Office for Mac in this release, it's not simply blowing an opportunity. I've suspected for years that the main Office team and the Mac BU only worked for the same company in name; leaving SharePoint off the table in Office for Mac 2011 would prove that point for all time.

Yes, I know that in the business world Macs represent only about 3 percent of the installed desktops. That's money that Microsoft can (in theory) leave on the table; but by once again throwing out an inferior version of Office to Apple's customers, Microsoft is sacrificing mind share that it really can't afford to lose.