Office 2008 a mixed bag for Mac owners
Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business
April 1-7, 2008; issue 962
High Tech Office column
users have long had a complicated love-hate relationship with
Microsoft. On the one hand, they’ve chosen a path separate from the
Microsoft Windows-using majority. But most of them continue to be
customers of Microsoft’s Office. While Windows Office users got a
2007-branded update that featured a new user interface and new file
formats, Mac users had to wait until now for the new Microsoft Office
2008 for Mac.
This new version is a less radical revision than
last year’s Windows update, which did away with traditional menus and
toolbars entirely, replacing them with a series of what Microsoft
refers to as “ribbons.” Office ’08 retains classic menus and a
single-width toolbar, along with the handy formatting palette found in
the last Mac Office versions, now expanded with new palettes for
objects, reference tools and more, including a set of document themes.
elements gallery is new: a series of tabs between the toolbar and the
page. In Word, these provide quick access to features such as tables,
charts and “smartart graphics.” New in Word, also, is a publishing
layout view, perhaps a response to easy to use page layout features in
Apple’s low-cost, Word-compatible Pages word processor (part of Apple’s
iWork ’08 package).
Users of recent Intel-powered Macs will be
pleased that the Office ’08 has been redesigned with their hardware in
mind. As a result, it loads and runs somewhat faster than Office 2004
on those Macs. On older PowerPC Macs, however, it will feel a bit
slower than the previous version. Like the Windows Office 2007 version,
the new Mac Office saves files in Microsoft’s new Open XML file formats
by default; it will happily exchange files with Office 2007 users. But
as with last year’s Windows version, I recommend resetting the Office
2008 applications to save in the older Office file formats for
compatibility with the majority of users (on both Windows and Mac)
using older versions. (Converters for the new file formats are
available for users of Microsoft Office 2000, 2002, and 2003 for
Windows, but are not yet out for the equivalent Mac Office versions.)
Excel, and PowerPoint each sport a set of relatively subtle
improvements, generally aimed at making existing features easier to
locate. They also provide more powerful layout and formatting options
(to better compete with iWork ’08). New Excel users will appreciate the
ledger sheets library of pre-made invoices and other documents along
with the formula builder tool. PowerPoint presentations can be spiffed
up with SmartArt graphics and easier animations.
Office 2008’s equivalent of the Windows package’s Outlook, is less
changed. It focuses on improving capabilities for users on a Microsoft
Exchange server, such as the ability to check other users’ schedules to
plan a meeting when everyone is free.
While Entourage now works
well with Exchange calendars and with the iCal calendar built into the
Mac, it does less well with Exchange tasks, notes and public folders.
The new version of Entourage still can’t import Outlook-style PST
files, which makes it difficult for users to move their data from a
Windows system to a Mac. As a result, Entourage users may still feel
like second-class Exchange citizens compared with Windows Outlook
users. Moreover, the new Office version has dropped the support for
Visual Basic macros available in previous Mac versions of the suite,
limiting compatibility for some users.
Office 2008 comes in
three “flavours”: the standard version ($540, upgrade $320) includes
the new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage. A $630
Special Media Edition adds Microsoft Expression Media, a management
tool for digital photos, music and videos, as a separate installation.
And a Home and School Edition, at $200 is the least expensive buy –
though it’s not licensed for workplace use. •