It's that time again... Office:Mac has a new release under its belt for the upcoming 2 years with 2011, a much needed update to Microsoft's productivity software suite.
If you're here, then you may already own Office:Mac 2008 and I'm sure thoughts will be mixed. The software is a package that ultimately had potential, but various attributes let it down such as, the fact that Microsoft tell you to update the programs every month with 'Critical Updates' to fix 'Vulnerability Issues'. When such is the case, why release a product thats updates equate to a larger size than the original installation?
Rest assured however that 2011 is a smoother ride. Whats more, its not even a 64bit package, but I think they can be forgiven on this front since 64bit technology only enhances software thats uses lots and lots of RAM. 2011 is a little lighter on this front. Upon working on each application for half and hour, the average memory sum was around 90mb, so I'm happy that Microsoft have done at least one thing right.
It doesn't stop there though, because the entire package has seen modernisation. The biggest change of all is the Ribbon interface - something that I completely despise on the Windows port of this software, yet on Office:Mac 2011, i'm seriously impressed. The Ribbon, although looking similar in features, is more accomplished on the Mac version since it labels more of the icons and makes the features more 'obvious'. One of the most idiotic aspects of Office for Windows is that the icons on the Ribbon are all too often completely ambiguous.
Whats more, the 'levels' on the Ribbon are denoted clearer, and they are completely customiseable - unlike on the Windows version, were only the 'block' of features could be swapped around. Such levels as Home, Layout, Document Elements, Tables and Charts are named the same on Windows, but as was said earlier, its features are better assigned and more obvious to which level they occur at.
This Home and Student Edition arrives with;
Word - Hey, its for word processing! And also retains the great features of 2008 such as Notebook Layout View for at University lectures.
Excel - The spreadsheet application thats more fun if you can do maths. I'm being flippant there - Excel has always been useful for any student.
PowerPoint - Probably the most important application these days, and the one that suggests 'Flashier will get you more marks'. If such is the case, 2011 doesn't disappoint!
... Yes, Outlook. According to the back of the Home and Student Edition box, Outlook is not even listed as being in the package - only available with the Home and Business Edition...
... oh wait, Microsoft are just teasing you! You've installed the application, click to launch it and then you're asked if you'd like to upgrade to the Home and Business Edition. Nice move Bill! Though if I wanted Outlook specifically, then surely I'd have just bought the Business Edition anyway? Silly little man, I'll keep my money.
Hey, at least you get the new Microsoft Messenger (MSN) bundled for free, and its fairly 'good'. Be aware of the Video feature though, its barely improved from the Beta version of this program.
As far as compatibility is concerned [taking Word as an example] .DOCX files can be exchanged from Windows to Mac without a single hitch, so kudo's to both parties for getting that right. Standard .DOC files work fine too of course, though remember that files from Apples iWork that are saved in its own preliminary format [e.g Pages] cannot be imported into Microsoft Office. To import from iWork to Office, you will need to change the File Type upon saving/copying the document. Easy peasy! Whats more, the document elements of Office:Mac 2011 mirror those of Windows Office exactly, so if you're exchanging files between machines, they will continue to look the same. This has been a major plus for myself and fellow students of got this product as library networks are normally always Windows based, whilst we use MacBooks.
If you own iWork or are torn between Office and the former, then you should be made aware of not just the compatibility facts listed above, but the basic pro's and con's of between the two package. As I see, these for iWork are;
+ Simpler interfaces. The best example is 'Pages' (the equivalent of Word), which is literally just a sheet of paper with the toolbar built in. On Word, you still have the ancient grey background behind the document, for some reason.
+ Best performance. It would have to be of course - It's been designed by Apple for their own machines, and it tells.
+ More professional presentations in 'Keynote', Apples equivalent of PowerPoint. The degree of control you have is unquestionable.
+ Hey, its cheaper!
- File sizes are much larger. Whereas a Word document may be a mere 17kb, a Pages document would be around 150kb.
- 'Numbers', the Apple equivalent of Excel, just isn't as in depth and lacks many features.
- Updates to the release of the software are more scarce than Office.
These only a few points, so its up to you to make your mind up.
While there are no radical enhancements that would make you want to rush out and buy 2011, its worth noting that it's biggest feature is quite simply the performance. This says a lot about how Microsoft have failed so often in the past, so I admire the fact that they've taken 2011 and focussed on it being a slicker experience. The new layouts only improve your productivity further, but aside from this performance and interface, Office is just as helpful as its always been. I'd almost go as far as saying that were moving away from innovation and going into the territory of bloating the software with features that you'll likely never use, but to just say that the product is 'new and improved'.
The only major thumbs down I can give is to PowerPoint, which I would argue is worse than the previous edition. Moving objects and text-boxes has been made more difficult due to the fact that, to 'Select' a text-box, you have to hover carefully over the box until the 4-axis arrow cursor appears, because if you click once inside the box and try to drag, it simply goes straight to the editing mode. Past editions have let you just click and drag, with a double-click to edit, so this reversal is more time consuming and annoying. The performance is also more sluggish compared to the other programs. You can't preview animations without first applying them, and there is regularly delays in making some actions. Transitions aren't as smooth, and the interface is generally a slight step backwards. This is a pity, for a program which boasts so much has had the spark removed from it.
A final gripe comes with Microsofts latest pricing strategy for the Office:Mac series, something that I've never given too much thought in the past since the Student/Home Editions have contained 2 or 3 License Codes. For the 2011 Edition, the Home and Student Edition no longer has multiple licenses - just the one key - meaning for the same price as past releases, you can only install it on one computer. This is something which I think is quite poor, given how much this product is worth. For students like myself who often work between a home computer and a laptop, I'm not impressed that Microsoft don't even bundle an extra key incase anything goes wrong with your primary system.
On the other hand, Apple have never had 'licensing' control over iWork - you simply have a key and that will work many times over, allowing you to place it any number of machines. What's more, iWork is cheaper, and with the upcoming release of 'Mac App Store' [an Apple program that allows you to download software for your Mac], you're going to be enabled to download those iWork programs for a fraction of the price. Separately.
Now, if only Microsoft could plagiarize useful features like these, rather than just templates...
8/10 - A big improvement over 2008, but unless you're using these programs on a regular basis, the upgrade may not be value for money.
[PowerPoint is still compatible with Apple Remotes, for use with slide action]