Microsoft Office 2008 on the Mac is horrible yet unavoidable necessity, that has had me banging my head against the wall for a long period of time. Random formatting glitches when working with complex (and sometimes quite simple) documents, irritating floating windows and the nightmare that was mail via Entourage (which still managed to handle Exchange better than the native Mail.app).
Office 2011 promises to change all this. I raced through the quite simple install process and jumped straight to the new Outlook app. This account set up was, uncharacteristically automagical, importing multiple gmail accounts from my Mail.app and an Exchange account I had on Entourage in just a few clicks. Downloading thousands of messages took a while – but nowhere near as long as downloading my single Exchange account took when I set it up a year or so ago, so that process has been streamlined on some level. You can even preview documents like you can in Mail.
Much like lightweight Mac mail client Sparrow, Outlook groups conversations, following the Gmail paradigm. Initially I thought this was awesome. After a few days use a few annoying bugs appeared to have crept in. The most annoying of which was the algorithm used to group conversations, which seemed to simply operate on Subject line. Which is fine if you have ultra-specific subject lines such as “Office Mac 2011 review” but I had an incredibly long conversation spanning years that collated every email I’d ever used “Hey” as a subject line for. I’m sure there is something I could do to fix this … but I shouldn’t have to.
Outside of Outlook, VBA makes a welcome return, with no real excuse as to why it disappeared in the first place. Sharepoint and Windows Live SkyDrive are also thrown in for corporate users, who obviously have quite demanding document sharing needs. The integration of the Mac Media browser – makes searching for pictures – and other media obviously, pretty nifty.
There are a few confusing choices with regards to user interface choices and consistency with Mac style guidelines – which are dealt with in more detail here. Daring Fireball’s Jon Gruber would probably foam at the mouth at all this.
However, given Microsoft’s dominance in the corporate world you will in all probability be using this, not matter what it looks like, and I’ve seen much worse looking software. Like Office 2008. The ribbon is feature-packed, which can be a little confusing at times – although I do enjoy casually glancing at features I’ve never seen before (in what … 15 years of using Office) and experimenting with them.
My favourite feature is however the actual opposite of the Ribbon’s mild visual clutter. The Full screen mode, removes all controls from the screen, but allows you do basic (in fact most) editing and composing work with a limited control set available with a quick mouseover on the top bar.
Excel has a few refinements and Powerpoint looks a lot more like Keynote, which can only be a good thing. Apple’s iWork suite is pretty competitively priced and does lots of basic features that will work fine for the average user. And there is lots of custom low-priced Mac software, that works well most of the time. But… if your work is mission critical or if you function in a corporate environment then the high reliability and (almost) guaranteed compatibility for the Office suite means you should probably bite the bullet and update.