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Microsoft Office has always had a lot of features--too many features, some would say. With menus inside of menus, palettes aplenty, and toolbars crammed with tiny buttons, the biggest problem with Office was finding the features you needed without being bogged down by the ones you never touched. Plus, with the Mac version of Office lagging at least a year behind the Windows suite, feature parity could be an issue, so Mac users often felt like second-class citizens over, for example, the lack of VBA macros.
With Office 2011 for Mac, the Redmond giant has taken care to include as many of the new features in Office 2010 for Windows as possible. But the suite looks and feels more Mac-like thanks to parts of it being rewritten in Cocoa. More important is its OS X integration--the suite-wide Media Browser and support in Outlook for Quick Look, Spotlight searching, and Time Machine backups. Wait, Outlook? Yes, Office’s Mac-only email client Entourage has been replaced by a true Mac version of Outlook, which was formerly only available for Windows. In the following pages, we’ll highlight the new features common to the whole suite--as well as in the main apps Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook--to help you decide whether it’s worth it to upgrade from Office 2008. (Office 2011 also includes Microsoft Messenger, but we’re skipping it here because it’s a free download and not important enough to sway anyone’s upgrade decision.)
With Office 2011, Microsoft is also launching smartly designed Web App versions of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word to let coworkers collaborate on documents in real time, via the free-for-consumers SkyDrive cloud-storage system. We only touch on it in our reviews since it wasn’t fully operational at press time, but we’ll provide a deeper look, including tips and tutorials, in our next issue.
Put some coffee on. It’s time to get things done with Office 2011!
If you like compatibility and ease of use, you’ll dig the new features in almost every app in Office 2011.
The Template Gallery lets you start customizing documents before you even open them.
The Template Gallery available in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel 2011 borrows…ahem…the look and feel of iWork’s Template Chooser, though at least it also adds new features. Sure, you can skim through template pages and enlarge them for a closer look, but you can also search for templates by keyword. Good thing, since thousands are available online in addition to the examples on your Mac. And your choices don’t end there--most local templates let you pick color and font schemes for your document before it’s created, and these changes update in the gallery so there are no surprises when you get down to work.
The ribbon may take up extra space, but it puts the tools you need in one place.
Remember the animated Mac Plus that offered “helpful” tips based on what it thought you were doing in old versions of Office? Its spirit lives on in the ribbon, a dynamic toolbar that changes depending on what you’re actually doing in an Office 2011 document. Select a picture in your Word file, and image-related tools slide into view. Return to your copy, and the text formatting features you need become available. Best of all, you can switch toolsets manually by selecting tabs. Our only beef is that the ribbon’s handy features take up valuable real estate in document windows. But if you want to kick it old-school, you can easily collapse the ribbon or just turn it off entirely in the preferences.
Finally, an iWork-style Media Browser arrives in Office 2011.
Adding multimedia to documents is now much simpler thanks to a new Media Browser shared throughout Office 2011. Not only does it give you access to iLife and iTunes files, it finally brings Microsoft’s clip art, shapes, and even text symbols out of the Objects palette into one searchable, easy-to-use window. And new image-editing tools let you crop photos, adjust colors, and even easily remove a picture’s background in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.
After notoriously disappearing in Office 2008, VBA--Visual Basic for Applications, the scripting language that powers time-saving Office macros--is finally back on the Mac…mostly. You can use the Macro Recorder to record complex or frequently performed functions, then write your own macros from scratch or edit a recorded macro’s code and share it with coworkers. We just wish the new kid on the block, Outlook 2011, was VBA-aware like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.
There’s no escaping death, taxes, and Office files that don’t open correctly on Macs, right? Well, as long as you’re swapping files with users of Office 2010 for Windows, you should be good to go. Even most Publishing Layout Word documents can be edited in Word 2010 and safely saved back to your Mac. Older versions of Office on either platform won’t support new features like video or image filters and effects, but you knew there had to be a catch somewhere.
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