It's been a long haul for Mac users who have been waiting for a universal version of Microsoft Office, one that can run natively on Intel-based Macs. The wait is finally over; Office 2008 for Mac is here.
As a universal application, Office 2008 for Mac should provide a performance boost over earlier versions of Office for Mac, which used Apple's Rosette emulator to ensure that older PPC applications would work with Intel processors. In particular, Office 2008 for Mac should launch faster, save files more quickly, and generally display noticeable performance increases for all tasks.
Office for Mac: What’s In the Box
Office 2008 for Mac is available in three editions, all of which include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage.
- Office 2008 for Mac Home and Student Edition
- Office 2008 for Mac
- Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition
Office 2008 for Mac adds support for Microsoft Exchange Server, as well as a set of Automator Actions for Workflows. The Special Media Edition includes Microsoft Expression Media, a digital asset management system that can catalog and organize your music, videos, photos, and artwork, as well as your Office documents.
The Home and Student Edition is the least expensive, and includes licenses for up to three users in the same household. The license restricts the product's use to non-commercial endeavors, however, which rules out home office or other business use. Office 2008 for Mac only includes one license, but it's not restricted to non-business use. The Special Media Edition offers the same single license.
Office for Mac: What’s New
One of the main attractions of Office 2008 for Mac is its ability to run natively on both Intel and PPC Macs, which should provide increased performance across the board on Intel Macs. I was hoping for dramatic speed increases, but I was less than impressed. Most Office applications still have a long initial load time, probably a result of the need to load and cache fonts and other common objects the applications use. On the bright side, subsequent launches are fast, and all of the applications seem to perform tasks more quickly than the previous generation.
The other major overhaul is in the underlying file structure of the documents that Office creates. Office documents now use the Open XML document format first introduced in Office 2007 for Windows. When sharing files between Mac and Windows, you can use the default file format, as long as both parties use either Office 2007 for Windows or Office 2008 for Mac. You can also save files in one of the earlier Office formats, so sharing files with others is still a simple process, as long as you know what your colleagues are using. I decided to forgo the whole Open XML thingy, and set Office to save everything in the older Office 97-2004 format, which nearly everyone can open and use.
The user interface has been refined, but it hasn't undergone the major changes that Office 2007 for Windows did. You won't see the ribbon interface here; instead, Mac users are still stuck with clunky floating palettes and thick toolbars.
Office for Mac: Word
Word 2008 is similar enough to previous versions that existing Word users should be able to dive right in. There are six ways to view a document: Draft, Web Layout, Outline, Print Layout, Notebook Layout, and Publishing Layout. The Print and Publishing views give you a good idea of what the final document will look like. When you use these viewing modes, you have access to additional elements you can easily add to your documents. These elements are organized into galleries, and appear as buttons under the toolbar; the button may be labeled either Document Elements or Publication Templates, depending on which view you're using. The remaining buttons are Quick Tables, Charts, SmartArt Graphics, and WordArt. You can use these buttons to quickly insert tables, graphics, headers, or footers, or completely format your document in a predefined theme, such as brochure, flyer, or invitation. Notebook Layout has a spiral notebook appearance that lets you organize a document by sections that appear as tabs.
The gallery and element buttons are handy, but I must confess that I still prefer the Draft Layout view, which hides these additional options and has a minimal toolbar, thus devoting more room to the actual document.
Word responded very quickly to anything I asked of it. Even the dropdown font menu, which displays fonts graphically, was quick and responsive. I liked the word count and document statistics, which provided close to real-time updates. In previous versions of Word, I had to wait for the statistics to catch up with my typing.
Office for Mac: Excel
Excel 2008 has a nice assortment of new features, as well as one glaring misstep that may put the kibosh on upgrading for some users.
First, the good news. Like Word, Excel uses element galleries, which allow you to quickly add complex functionality to a spreadsheet. The galleries appear as four buttons (Sheets, Charts, SmartArt Graphics, WordArt) just under the toolbar. The Sheets button lets you make a selection from a number of preformatted spreadsheets, providing a quick start for accounts, budgets, invoices, list, portfolio, and reports spreadsheets.
The new Formula builder makes quick work of adding formulas, the heart of any spreadsheet. Once you build a spreadsheet, you'll enjoy the native speed that Excel 2008 provides as a universal Mac application.
Now for the bad news. Excel 2008 no longer supports VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). If you have spreadsheets that rely on VBA to work correctly, they will no longer function with Excel 2008. Microsoft can't claim it's phasing VBA out, because the newest version of Excel 2007 for Windows fully supports it. Microsoft suggests replacing VBA macros with AppleScript or Automator actions, but the resulting spreadsheets would be unusable in Windows.
Excel 2008 offers appealing new features and a user interface that's a pleasure to navigate, but its lack of cross-platform macro capabilities essentially hobbles in it a business environment. This may also be a problem for home users, because there's a good chance that the mortgage calculator spreadsheet you downloaded from your bank's web site will no longer work.