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 Yes, Office’s Mac-only email client Entourage has been replaced by a true Mac version of Outlook, which was formerly only available for Windows.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.
Next Page: Word and Excel Reviews »
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.
Next Page: PowerPoint and Outlook Reviews »
By taking a lesson or two from Keynote, the new PowerPoint gets your message across to more people in style.
Presenter View is good...Keynote good.
An improved (and Keynote-inspired) Presenter View makes it easy to show off your creations. The full-screen view shows you the current and upcoming slide, a collapsible filmstrip view of your slide show, your progress in the entire presentation, and any notes you’ve prepared. You do have notes, right? If not, you can also jot down ideas or questions from the audience on the fly, and these notes are automatically assigned to the current slide for later review. If, despite all this, you want to stick with the tools you already know, basic Slide Show features are available inside the current slide panel.
New video tools make it a snap to include movies in your slide shows.
Animation can add personality to a presentation, but to really put on a show, you can now embed movies directly into your slides. No more juggling multiple movie files! You can also apply effects like reflections, color correction, and unique borders to your videos that are retained during playback. For a more refined appearance in your slide’s layout, you can now select an image or video still to fill in for your movie while it’s not playing.
With the new Broadcast Slide Show feature (and a Windows Live ID and the PowerPoint Web App), you can now broadcast your presentations to up to 50 people, even if they don’t have PowerPoint on their computers. All attendees needs is a URL you provide, and they can simply watch your presentation on a Mac, PC, iOS device, or almost anything with a web browser. Now nobody will have an excuse to miss your next pitch.
PowerPoint 2011 sports new and improved 3D transitions, motion paths, and a Transitions tab in the ribbon that makes it easy to select and fine-tune effects from one location. And dynamic reordering--the layered 3D view of your document’s contents, a feature PowerPoint shares with Word--makes it easier than ever to bring your work to life. Better still, these snazzy new animations are supported in PowerPoint 2010 for Windows, so you don’t have to worry about anything breaking when it’s time to share your slide shows.
It’s pretty clear to us that many of the new features and tweaks in PowerPoint 2011 have been “inspired” by Keynote, and that’s good news for Mac users. If you prefer to (or must) work in PowerPoint, then you now have improved transitions, animations, a new Presenter View, and features that should have been included years ago, like embedded movie files. Wedded to Broadcast Slide Show, dynamic layer reordering, and compatibility with Office 2010, these tools make PowerPoint 2011 one-stop shopping for crafting and delivering your message to colleagues, whichever platform they use. And isn’t that the point?
Outlook returns to the Mac in force to stomp Mail and iCal’s monopoly on your personal information.
Outlook's Conversations feature displays threaded exchanges more clearly than Mail.
Odds are the most important emails in your inbox hash out a specific subject back and forth among several colleagues. Outlook 2011 makes these threaded messages, called conversations, easier to follow by highlighting them in your message list with an arrow. You can click the arrow to see all messages in a thread, or view a preview of the entire conversation in Outlook’s reading pane. Previews show the name of each message’s author, when messages were sent, the first lines of each email, and who contributed to the conversation most recently. And even if you move an email to another folder, it still shows up in the preview with the new location noted--a handy feature. Conversations make it clear at a glance who’s saying what about a topic, but beefier previews (say, a pop-up window showing each complete email as you mouse through the conversation) would make the feature even better.
Outlook's Import wizard can help you get set up with just a few clicks.
An information manager wouldn’t be much use if it couldn’t work with files from different applications, would it? Outlook 2011 plays nicely with the apps you already have on your Mac, as well as its Windows counterpart. That’s right, Outlook can import .PST (or Personal Storage Table) files that contain email messages, contacts, and events from Outlook 2003 for Windows and later. That should make your system admin happy. What will make you happy is Outlook’s ability to import calendars and to-dos (called tasks in Outlook) from iCal and grab your contacts from exported Address Book vCards. And if you’re still using Entourage 2004 or 2008, don’t worry. Outlook will import the program’s data directly or from an Entourage archive. However, Entourage’s custom views, search settings, and event travel time details aren’t imported into Outlook. Bummer.
Outlook's calendar preview lets you manage your schedule from your inbox.
Why trek back and forth between your email and calendar applications all day long when Outlook can do the job in one window? If you receive an email containing a meeting invitation, Outlook 2011’s calendar preview automatically shows you the meeting’s day and time inside the email, letting you see what events you already have scheduled. Double-click the meeting to open it in a new window, where you can choose a Scheduling Assistant tab that lets you zoom in on the day in question (as well as days nearby) and shows the names of other invitees and their replies. Of course, Scheduling Assistant also allows you to fine-tune your own meetings and share them with others.
Your emails to clients and coworkers are serious business. Good thing Office 2011 supports Microsoft’s Information Rights Management, allowing you or your system admin to apply permissions to outgoing emails so sensitive content can’t be printed, copied, or generally fall into the wrong hands--plus, most Office files attached to protected emails receive the same security. Even more importantly, Mac users can now read IRM-protected mail along with the rest of the office. You’ll never be left out of the loop about the real after-work party again.
Outlook may have arrived late to the OS X party, but it’s ready to fit in by making the most of technologies built into your Mac. You can preview attachments right from your inbox with Quick Look and search messages and events with Spotlight. Better still, Outlook 2011’s database can be backed up incrementally by Time Machine as you add reminders and receive new messages. This means you don’t have to back up your entire database every time you get a few new emails. That rocks, but our favorite Outlook integration with OS X has to be the subtle pop-up notifications that fade into view when scheduled reminders occur or when new mail arrives. It’s just enough to get us away from Twitter without being obnoxious.
Today’s business communication isn’t just about swapping text memos back and forth--even your emails have to be attractive documents that sell the company message. Outlook 2011’s rich email creation tools let you add links, style text, and change colors in your email, invitations, contacts, and other files. You can create multilevel lists or paste tables into messages, and the data will retain its proper formatting even after recipients forward your email to others.
Despite the missing Visual Basic for Applications scripting and the few Entourage-import gotchas, businesspeople looking for a personal information manager will be well served by Outlook 2011. Information Rights Management support and compatibility with Outlook 2010 will benefit those in a Windows world. The intelligent mix of email and scheduling functions--we’re looking at you, calendar preview--and the Mac-like interface will be welcome to users looking for something more powerful than Mail and iCal. If you’re already familiar with those apps, Outlook 2011 feels more like an intelligent upgrade to familiar tools than a brand-new Microsoft product.