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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

More pros than cons in Microsoft’s new Office 2011

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver October 26 - November 1, 2010 issue #1096 High Tech Office column

It used to be said that Microsoft made more money on each Macintosh sold than on the average Windows PC.

The reason, presumably, was the company’s Microsoft Office suite, seemingly universal on both Macs and PCs. But Mac users typically paid full retail for their copies of Office, while PC users most often either got Windows and Office bundled with their hardware or bulk-purchased by their employer.

In 1997, when Apple seemed in dire straits, Microsoft publicly gave the company a boost, partly by investing $150 million in Apple stock, but perhaps more importantly by promising to continue development of the Mac version of Microsoft Office.

Lately, though, Microsoft Office for Mac has seemed less vital. While it remains popular with Mac owners, the free OpenOffice suite and the online (and also free) Google Docs have become increasingly used. Apple’s $99 iWork provides a lower-cost Mac-only alternative with more graphical smarts than Microsoft’s suite.

Moreover, Mac Office 2008 was sluggish and lacked the Visual Basic for Applications macro language built into Windows Office versions, limiting compatibility. I’d removed it from my Mac, replacing it with OpenOffice.

I’m typing this column in Microsoft’s new Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac, released October 26. First impression: there’s a lot to like.
Among the pluses:

•improved performance. It starts up faster and feels perkier all around compared with its predecessor;
•better compatibility with its Windows cousin. The new version brings the “ribbon” interface used in recent Windows versions of Office over to the Mac. Unlike on the Windows versions, however, traditional menus remain and the floating “tool box” used in past Mac Office versions is just a click away (and one click can turn the ribbon off if desired). Visual Basic macros are supported again;
•Entourage, the mail and calendar application in previous Mac Office versions, has been replaced with a Windows-style Outlook. As in the latest Windows version, you can group messages and replies by conversations (the way it’s done in Gmail accounts). Unlike the Windows version, you can use a single inbox for multiple mail accounts. Another Mac-only feature: each message is stored as a separate file, for faster performance and much faster backups; and
•a publishing layout mode in Word offers increased page design options, the better to compete with Pages, Apple’s design-friendly word processor iWork component. The new PowerPoint version also responds to iWork’s Keynote presentation software.

Documents can be saved online to Microsoft’s SkyDrive service or a corporate SharePoint network server and edited using either the Mac or Windows Office applications or Microsoft’s new Office Web services. And as with Google Docs, multiple users can collaborate on a document, making changes in real time.

While Office 2011 is a big improvement, it’s not perfect. The Windows version includes more import filters and can be used to read Word Perfect documents, important in many law and government offices. The Mac Word can’t. While Word’s new publishing layout offers most of the features of the Windows-only Microsoft Publisher, it lacks the ability to open Publisher files. To read those, you’ll need the Windows version of Office. Apple’s Keynote remains, overall, a slicker presentation program. If your business network is still using Exchange Server 2003 (or earlier), hang onto your old copy of Entourage – the new Outlook requires Exchange Server 2007 or later. (You can run Entourage and Outlook together.)

Microsoft Office 2011 is available in two versions: Home and Student, bundling Word, Excel and PowerPoint (about $130), and Home and Business, adding Outlook to the mix (about $250). Pricing – perhaps in response to Apple’s iWork – is lower than for either older Mac or current Windows Office versions, but unlike previous Mac versions allows installation only on a single system and has Windows-style product activation to enforce that. (Additional-cost multiple-licence versions are available.)

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