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Microsoft hopes Word’s new options and improved interface will make your workflow simpler, both alone and in groups.
Styles get more stylish and easier to use in Word 2011.
The new Visual Styles feature lets you see which styles have been applied to your document and where they are. Click a checkbox and each one is identified by numbered, color-coded markers along your pages so you can see at a glance which styles are active in your document. It even highlights text that’s been modified from a default style--underlined or made bold, for instance--so you can spot and correct these errors more easily.
Revising complex layouts is a cinch with Word and PowerPoint's dynamic layers.
Swinging to the rescue of busy Publishing Layout documents is dynamic reordering, a feature shared with PowerPoint 2011. It gives you a 3D rendering of document layers so you can easily rearrange elements--drag an image to the front for easy editing, let’s say—and then put them back where they belong in just a few clicks. It’s like Cover Flow for layers, and it’s a real time saver in complex publications or slides.
Full-screen document views have been available in word processors for years, so Microsoft had to do something special when bringing the feature to Word. For some reason, they split it in two. Write mode works as expected, filling the screen with your document and offering access to print and formatting options, reviewing tools, and the Toolbox and Media Browser from a drop-down menu. Switch to read mode, and you lose most of these features while gaining a sidebar that lets you scroll through thumbnails of your pages. Here’s hoping for an update that does away with this annoying division of labor.
In previous versions of Word, online collaboration meant waiting to work while colleagues took turns revising a shared document. No longer. Like the new PowerPoint, Word now lets you edit files simultaneously with other users running Office 2011 for Mac or Office 2010 for Windows (but you’ll have to access files from Microsoft’s SkyDrive, or for enterprise users, SharePoint Foundation 2010). You can instantly see which of your coworkers is editing a document and where in the file they’re working, and Word locks other users out of each paragraph that’s being edited.
Without blockbuster new features like 2008’s Publishing Layout, Word 2011 may seem like just an incremental upgrade. But perhaps more than any Office application, the value of a Word update depends on the kind of work you do. If straight-up text is your thing, Visual Styles will make your life much easier. If you let pictures do the talking, the new image tools and Media Browser are definitely worth a look. But no matter what you create, the suite-wide Template Gallery, in-document collaboration features, and improved integration with Office 2010 for Windows can make time spent in Word easier and more productive. It’s a worthy upgrade that’s more than the sum of its parts.
The new Excel doesn’t break new ground, but you’ll work with data faster--and make it look better--than ever before.
Sparklines bring compact clarity to your worksheets.
Do your eyes glaze over at the sight of spreadsheets full of raw data? Enter Sparklines, compact charts that sit in a single worksheet cell beside their data to display trends at a glance (select a Sparkline, and its corresponding data is immediately highlighted). You can create Sparklines with just a few clicks and customize them with different colors, markers, and chart types depending on your needs. And because Sparklines are compatible with Excel 2010 for Windows, the whole office can easily see what your data is saying.
New PivotTables transform dull data into something you can read in a snap.
Making PivotTables--interactive reports that let you quickly summarize and compare sets of data according to their categories—is easier than ever in the new Excel. You can create PivotTables manually or with a single click, then dig into new instant search filters with multiple filter conditions to quickly present your information from every angle. The same sorting tools apply to tables (formerly known as lists) and worksheets, and you can even sort or filter based on criteria like cell color, font color, or the new Conditional Formatting icon sets.
Visualizing important variations and patterns in your information can be a chore, but improved Conditional Formatting can help you highlight the right exceptions in your data. You’re no longer limited to three conditional rules and one conditional format per cell, plus you can now use 40 built-in formats or roll your own with custom data-bar fills, colors, and icon sets. But the real action happens under the hood. New quick-select rules let you call out values above or below an average, identify duplicate or unique values, add date criteria, and more--without resorting to complicated formulas. That’s a condition we can get behind.
Say goodbye to the same old pie chart. Whether you’re working in Excel or incorporating a chart into a PowerPoint or Word document, you’ll have access to a faster charting engine, simpler chart tools in the ribbon, and over 130 SmartArt diagram layouts. But no matter which charts or SmartArt graphics you choose, their appearance will automatically match your document’s colors, fonts, and formatting effects.
Like the new Word, Excel 2011 lacks a single game-changing feature (unless, that is, you frequently work with tables or conditional formatting). Instead, it’s a collection of very useful refinements to core functions. Not all users will benefit from them, but those refinements can make a big difference paired with the new features built into Office 2011. The return of Visual Basic for Applications alone--and the macros it makes possible--will improve the workdays of most spreadsheet jockeys enough to recommend an upgrade from Excel 2008.
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