Office for Mac 2011 promises to achieve parity between the Windows and Mac versions. Over the years, the two versions have diverged, perhaps in the belief that Mac and Windows users are looking for different things. Or, if you’re a bit cynical, perhaps it was to ensure that Windows users didn’t abandon the platform in droves if a full-featured version of Office for Mac became available. Either way, Office for Mac 2011 bring the two versions more in sync with each other, so Office users can move freely between platforms, with little or no need to learn a different interface.
Office for Mac 2011: What’s in the Box
Office for Mac 2011 is available in three editions.
Office for Mac 2011 Home & Student
Includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Available with a single-user license for $119.00, and a three-user family pack for $149.00.
Office for Mac 2011 Home & Business
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Available with a single-user license for $199.00, and a two-user license for $279.00.
Office for Mac 2011 Academic
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Available with a single-user license for $99.00. Specific restrictions apply to eligibility. You must be actively enrolled at a valid U.S. educational institution, with a course load of at least .5 credits, or a member of staff or faculty. You must also have a valid email address through the educational institute that ends in .edu.
Besides the core applications, Office for Mac 2011 also includes Microsoft Messenger; Remote Desktop Connection, which allows you to access and share the screen of another computer running Windows; and Microsoft Document Connection, for sharing documents with others.
Office for Mac 2011: What’s New
The big news with Office for Mac 2011 is the inclusion of Outlook as the email client. This isn't a 'lite' version, but the full-featured email client that is widely enjoyed as the preferred mail system on many Windows machines. The only downside is that Microsoft chose not to include Outlook in the Home & Student edition. I guess they assumed that only business users need Outlook and its calendar and contact features. Tell that to a family or student trying to juggle work, home, and school schedules.
Office for Mac 2011 also offers a new, more robust co-authoring system that lets you work concurrently with others on Word or PowerPoint documents. The co-authoring system will work with any version of Office for Mac 2011 or Office 2010 (Windows). The only requirement for sharing is that the documents must be stored either on SharePoint Foundation 2010 servers or, more appropriate for home and small business users, on SkyDrive, using a free Windows Live ID.
Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) makes its return to Office for Mac. When Microsoft released Office for Mac 2008, it stripped support for VBA from the office suite, ensuring that all those wonderful scripts business users had built to automate their workflow wouldn't run under OS X. Well, now VBA is back, guaranteeing complete cross-platform compatibility.
Of course, you don't need to rely on Windows-created scripts. You can create Word, Excel, or PowerPoint macros to streamline your own repetitive processes.
Office for Mac 2011: User Interface
Office for Mac 2011 introduces the Ribbon interface to Mac users. The Ribbon interface has been part of the Windows versions of Office for some time, but it's only now making its appearance on the Mac. So, just what is the Ribbon interface?
The Ribbon is a large toolbar located under the normal menu bar. Before you can say, "Oh, great! Another toolbar to clutter things up!" (which, by the way, was my initial reaction), the Ribbon interface combines the common toolbars and palettes that most Mac users normally use, including the formatting palette and Elements Gallery, into a more streamlined and dynamic interface.
I say "dynamic" because the contents of the Ribbon can change, depending on how you're working. For example, select a picture in a document, and the Ribbon adds tools for working with images. The Ribbon is also customizable, so you can set it up the way you like. And if you really hate change, you can turn the Ribbon off, or use it in connection with the older toolbars and palettes.
Office for Mac 2011: Outlook 2011
Outlook retains some of the better Entourage features, such as Rules, Scheduling, and the List Manager. But from then on, it's a brand new application, designed to provide the expected Outlook functionality, as long as you connect to Exchange Server 2007 or later with Web Services. If not, Outlook also supports POP and IMAP email accounts, and lets you use calendars, contacts, tasks, and notes stored locally on your Mac.
I didn't have an Exchange email account to test Outlook with, but POP and IMAP performed as expected, handling both my email accounts that use various forms of SSL and my simple password-based accounts.
Importing existing email accounts, messages, folders, and signatures worked as expected. Outlook can import Windows Outlook, Apple Mail, Eudora, and other email clients using the MBOX format, CVS, or tab-separated text files.
Outlook allows you to set up multiple calendars and categories. Creating events was easy enough, but trying to assign different colors to events required assigning categories, such as personal, work, family, and friends, as well. Outlook can't import directly from existing iCal calendars. Instead, you must export your calendars in the .ics format. Once you bring your iCal data into Outlook, you can't sync back to iCal or much of anything else, for that matter. In version 1.0, at least, there's no sync support for calendar events for systems that aren't Exchange-based.