More pros than cons in Microsoft’s new Office 2011
by Alan Zisman (c) 2010
published in Business in Vancouver October 26 - November 1, 2010 issue
#1096 High Tech
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
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
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.)