Office 2011: Has Microsoft Got It Right This Time?

Making the switch from a PC to Mac is a pretty substantial move to make, and to help ease the transition, many switchers purchase Microsoft Office right off the bat. It’s that familiar old friend that we all love and remember, and it makes the process easier.

Microsoft Office 2004 worked fairly well, but wasn’t quite up to its Windows brethren, and with Office 2008 came a disaster of a suite that ran many people towards iWork.

So is Office 2011 the version that everyone’s been waiting for, or is it another dud? Microsoft sent me a review copy of the program and I’ve spent the past week playing with it, trying to test its limits and see where it took me. The results were a bit surprising.

Overcoming Hurdles

The problems with Office 2008, and to a lesser extent 2004, were pretty apparent. Each program in the suite took eons to load, the toolbox was ridiculous and clunky, and they were all crash happy. With Office 2011, all of those problems are fixed and more.

Office for Mac 2011

Office for Mac 2011

The Icons

The Icons

First, the speed. One of the impressive things about Office 2011 is the speed that it takes to load from the dock. In my tests, each of the programs loads in under five seconds, with no problems at all. Each program has also been pretty stable in my experience, which is pretty impressive considering that they’re not even officially released to the public yet.

Now the toolbox, that’s a whole other issue; one I’ll get to in a little bit.

Highlights

The standard e-mail program in Office 2008 was Entourage, and that has since been replaced by Outlook. This is a welcome change, as Entourage definitely had its share of issues, and many detractors as a result.

Outlook not only looks great, but it performs amazingly well, too. Setting up a new account is quick and easy, and doesn’t involve any complicated steps or procedures, which is quite the difference from Entourage.

But Outlook’s Mac predecessor wasn’t all bad, and the good features are still there. The popular “My Day” sub program is around, and functions just as well as it did before. Plus, Outlook has Exchange support, which is the real reason most purchasers will step up from the Home edition to Pro.

Outlook in Action

Outlook in Action

Word is also a pleasure to use. The program opens just like iWork in that you can choose from a variety of templates to customize your future document. Text boxes, shapes, pictures, and themes make doing desktop publishing as simple as a few clicks — but better yet, it just looks good. Word isn’t overdone, and it isn’t ridiculously complicated, either. It’s just right.

The big new Word feature that everyone is talking about right now is Full Screen view. This takes the document and blows it up across the screen, blacking out anything behind the area you’re working on. This is meant for distraction free writing, and it helps, assuming you’re the kind of person who wants to focus on one thing at a time. That said, on multiple-monitor systems it only blacks out one screen, which might come in handy if you need a reference on one screen and a focus zone on the other.

Full Screen Microsoft Word

Full Screen Microsoft Word

As for Excel, there’s not much to say that hasn’t been said about the reigning spreadsheet king in the field. I personally don’t use macros or VBA, but a quick menu check shows that both work just fine, and I’ve confirmed that with other test subjects as well.

I do have to use Excel exclusively for one or two of my customers, and now that I’ve switched to 2011, I can say that it’s a step ahead of the game.

Excel's Template Chooser

Excel's Template Chooser

The suite also comes with Powerpoint, a popular player in the world of business presentations. I have personally never used the program, so it’s not really fair of me to do any kind of comparision between the two versions.

What I can say is that the same template chooser found in all of the other programs is here in PowerPoint, and that makes a presentation newbie like myself feel comfortable with the program – or it would, if I needed it.

One common theme to all of the Office programs is the Ribbon. This is something that Microsoft has been pushing in their Windows lineup, as a simple way for users to find exactly the tool they need right away.

This eliminates that pain in the butt toolbox, and makes common tasks and formatting issues easy as pie. Microsoft is touting this feature pretty hard, calling it a “familiar” feature from the Windows version, making it easier for switchers.

What’s another positive about the suite? The price, if you can believe that. The Home & Student edition sells for $119 for a single install, $149 for a family pack. Home and Business adds Outlook to the standard package, and goes for $199 single user, $279 for a multi pack. That’s still not as cheap as the $79 iWork, but when compared to $149 for Home & Student or the Business edition for $399 in the ’08 versions, that’s not too bad.

The Problems

Well, there’s the ribbon. Although it’s a handy feature for finding things, it’s in every Office 2011 program, and it clutters up the top of the screen like crazy. Add to that the various toolbars, sidebars, and everything else that comes standard, and you end up losing a good amount of screen real estate just to editing tools.

Fortunately, it’s a feature that you can remove, which goes a long way towards giving the clean aesthetic that some Mac users crave.

Outlook's Ribbon

Outlook's Ribbon

Then there’s the price. Yes, it is a pretty substantial price break from Office 2008, but iWork sits pretty at just $79, which is tough competition. I made the transition over to Numbers for my spreadsheets and Pages for my word processing because it was more stable than Office 2008.

There are many other OS X users in my position, and there may not be a good enough reason to pay $200 to buy the latest Microsoft offering.

Final Thoughts

When I first heard that Office 2011 was coming out, I was curious, but I really didn’t want to spend $400 on a piece of software that accomplished what I was already doing with iWork.

But once I started using the suite – combined with the fact that the price has dropped – I realized that it’s really worth the extra money. Outlook alone has made my life easier; making e-mail organization easier than it is in Apple Mail.

But it comes down to this: If you’re comfortable with the iWork suite and you see no need to switch, don’t. But if they don’t quite work out for you and you’re looking for an Office suite with a marked improvement from the old version, than Office 2011 might be for you.

It took them three tries to get it right, but I think that this time, Microsoft has finally put out a decent Office suite for the Mac.


Summary

Office 2011 for Mac brings Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and now Outlook to your OS X desktop. It's a worthy step up from previous releases, and certainly shows that Microsoft's work suite is moving in the right direction.

8
  • Christopher Anderton

    Some quirks in Outlook 2011.

    1. Setting up accounts is not easier then some other clients. For example. Setting up an account using Google Apps ([email protected] hosted on Gmail) you need to enter everything manually. Not a big deal, but other mail clients will find out the settings automatically.

    2. Outlook does not appear to support iCalendars (the standard calendar format, used by Mail.app, Mozilla, Outlook on Windows, Google Cal and so on). When trying to import a calendar (via drag and drop, for there is no import calendar in the menu), it will set up every entry as an reminder (tried to import Swedish name days), so i got 365 reminders popping up like crazy.

    Furthermore, you cannot subscribe calendars found online.

  • http://drdkl.isgreat.org Dreadedkilla

    I’m not sure what Mac you’re running Office on, but when I tried it out, it took about as long as Office 2008 took to actually open up a window. Then it beachballs before I can actually do any work in it. It’d be nice if they removed the space-wasting, obsolete font menu in the menubar as that is what slows the app to a grinding halt (I am a font collector and having Office optimizing the menu at startup every time is annoying and slow).

    • http://audiojungle.net/user/unseenbattle/portfolio?ref=unseenbattle John

      @Dreadedkilla – To your point, I found that in office 2008 when you have thousands of fonts installed it takes a very long time to load as well. The number of fonts is not a problem at all for iWork.

      Also, in 2008, you could install a font, but until you rebooted the machine it did not show up in Office. Hopefully they fixed that in 2011.

      Good review none the less and good to hear they’ve made such progress.

  • Jacob Leander-Olsson

    I am loving it and especially Excel’s new interface is such an improvement. I hated working in excel before and now it is almost in line with the Windows versions.

    Only downside is the lack of Exchange 2003 support for the mail client, which my work unfortunately insist on using.

  • http://log.tuananh.ws Tuan Anh Tran

    The only thing could make me switch from iWork to Office could be Excel. Luckily my workflow doesn’t involve Excel heavily.
    I don’t really care about Word, Powerpoint or Entourage

  • Lucien

    I still find iWork a lot better. Word is really cluttered, and the Ribbon doesn’t have that nice feel it has in Windows. Plus, something as simple as moving an image and having the content around it move dynamically (like Pages does, for example) is something pretty hard to do in Word, as there are so many features you’ll lose more time than you expected to.

    I’ll stick with iWork and hope that the ’11 version comes out soon to blow Office out of the water.

  • http://rockyshark.tumblr.com Jason

    I use both Windows and Mac (but primarily Mac) and I must say I really like the Ribbon in Office 2007 and Office 2010. Outlook 2010 is a great product, and I’m really pleased to see you gave Outlook 2011 a good report. I have been waiting for this every since I stopped using Windows as my main computer a few years ago.

    I think you’ll grow to like the ribbon though…

    • granville

      hi jason..

      will you pls help me by setting up office 2011 on a mac desktop with an exchange account,is it possible to send me a note step by steop on how to install 2011

      thank you

      granville

  • http://www.artenscience.com Steve Cholerton

    It seems a case of ‘too little, too late’. There is nothing compelling in here if you have graduated to iWork after the disaster that was Office 2008. Having said that Microsoft should be applauded for plugging away at it, as there is no doubt many people for whom the switch to Mac will be made or broken by the availability of a decent version of Office.

  • http://polyresin.stanford.id.au Matt Stanford

    I’m one of two Macs in an otherwise exclusively-windows environment. If -if only- iWork offered the ability to save natively in Office formats, we’d be on it.
    As it is, max MS Office compatibility is a must.

    Sighting a $100 saving for iWork is a compromised argument – for many, fitting in with an existing environment is the bigger factor.

    I’m looking forward to Outlook (Entourage has always been a dog, particularly connected to an Exchange server) and if Powerpoint feels any quicker than a Java app, it will be a BIG improvement. Again, for many business users, it’s the default app for that style of document.
    Excel running macros again would be handy (always a source of derision and doubt for Windows users sharing a complex self-calculating spreadsheet with us touchy-feely Mac types).

    Also, $200 for a full version? Call the Value Channel, that’s significantly cheaper than Office 2008 was. We paid $408 in May this year for Office 2008 Business Edition. We’ll be upgrading for sure.

  • http://www.appforthat.de Julia Altermann

    Can anybody comment on the compatibility of Office for Mac with Office 2007 on Windows? It’s only an option for me if I don’t have to worry about loosing formatting since that would cost me way too much time to fix.

    Does anybody have experience with that?

  • http://www.appforthat.de Julia Altermann

    Can anybody comment on the compatibility of Office for Mac with Office 2007 on Windows? It’s only an option for me if I don’t have to worry about loosing formatting since that would cost me way too much time to fix.

    Does anybody have experience with that?

    • Neal O

      No issues yet Julia. You can really hold 2007 and 2011 Word docs up to the light and see no difference!

      Excel also works well with .xlsm (macro enabled) workbooks. Powerpoint 2007 presentations good too. I’ve not used Outlook.

      • http://www.appforthat.de Julia Altermann

        Thanks so much, Neal! Will give it a shot then.

  • http://www.kaishinlab.com Kaishin

    I have been using Office 2011 for two days now and I am very pleased to discover that microsoft worked hard to improve loading times and stability. The ribbon doesn’t bother me a lot, however I think there are better and more flexible display solutions…
    Overall pleasant experience.

  • Andrew Dilger

    I started using iWork, and loved it. However, I go to a college that is all Windows. It was a pain in the butt to always convert .pages to .doc and if I forgot to convert, there was no way to convert it at school. Therefore, I have to use MS Office =(

    • http://log.tuananh.ws Tuan Anh Tran

      I got the habit of converting everything (document, presentation) to pdf.
      That saves me from compatibility issues

  • http://www.drkrush.com Derek

    I’m using Outlook Mac 2011 Beta right now and it’s pretty nice. Still has some annoying quirks to it, however it’s still in beta so I can’t complain. Great interface and good if mac mail isn’t doing it for you anymore.

  • pete

    if only it included access

  • Andy Staab

    I know that MS says that Outlook 2011 isn’t compatible with Exchange 2003, which my company runs and is very unlikely to upgrade. Has anyone heard just how incompatible Outlook 2011 is with Exchange 2003? For example, perhaps the incompatibility is limited to not being able to perform some advanced, gee-whiz functions, but emailing works fine? I could even do without public folder support if I could just do plain ol’ email. Thanks!

    • DittoBox

      Outlook 2011 does not use the Exchange RPC protocol that the Windows client uses, but rather Exchange Web Services. That service is only available from 2007 onward.

      In effect, it’s not a sliding scale of compatibility, it just doesn’t work at all.

      Sorry!

      • Andy Staab

        Thanks so much for your very lucid explanation. That makes sense, disappointing as it is. Thanks again, DittoBox.

  • Joseph Weathers

    Looks good! One question: Does it support HTML formatting for composing emails?

    Oh, and has Microsoft figured out a way to let people import their emails from Windows’ Outlook to Mac’s?

    • DittoBox

      Having just upgraded a few days ago, I can tell you that it does allow HTML formatting for emails. There is also a PST and and OLM import filter. I’ve not used it, but the Entourage and Mail.app import options worked beautifully.

      Really a massive step forward for Microsoft, I’m quite happy with it.

  • Jose Wabo

    I really love Office 2011 suite on Mac, the only problem I can not make outlook 2011 work with my exchange. I am away on mission trying to have rpc over http work. My iPhone and my iPad work without any problem.
    ANy one experiencing this issue?

    I get the error message Outlook cannot connect to the exchange server, error code 18597.

    Any advice?

    Cheers

    • onitrix

      I have the same problem and I cannot find any solution on the web, either. Please post, if you have a solution

    • Matthew Dyer

      Same issue for me. My ME account is fine. I cannot get past this error as well.

  • http://calendee.com Justin Noel

    I’m very excited about Office 2011. I’ve got iWork and can’t stand it. I’ve been on a Mac for 7 years, and iWork is the worst app I’ve ever used. It really is horrible. The spreadsheet app is ludicrous. Why is it that Apple choses to let you open an Excel document but not save it again without having to go through hoops?

    I find iWork essentially useless except for popping up a document when I don’t have Windows XP running in Parallels. Unfortunately, sometimes, Pages takes just as long to convert a major document as it takes to boot Windows XP and open Word.

    I am hoping that Office 2011 will allow me to live on a Mac in a professional environment without having to run Paralles and Windows XP.

    • http://www.calendee.com Justin Noel

      I’ve received my copy of Office for Business. At first, I could not get Outlook to connect with Exchange 2010. Outlook unhelpfully did not provide any warnings or logs whatsoever. Let’s just say things were not starting well.

      Finally, after several attempts (and cooling off periods), it suddenly began working. I LIKE Outlook for the Mac. However, I am sorely disappointed with the reminders. When they pop-up, you have a Snooze and Dismiss option. The Snooze option LOOKS like you should be able to choose a snooze period. However, clicking Snooze just snoozes for whatever your default snooze setting is (5 mins by default). There is no easy way to snooze for various times short of going through the menu selections. What a joke. This is even worse than iCal’s lousy snooze options. Even Outlook Web Access has better snooze options!

      As for the rest, Office 2011 for the Mac is NOT as good as the Windows version of Office. However, it is so refreshing not to have to boot into Parallels / Windows XP every single day. I can do 99% of my work 100% on the Mac now. Windows is not hogging 768MB of memory, my Mac is faster now, and I am happy. Now, I’ll boot into Windows every 30 days just to reset my corporate password.

      As we say in Texas, Yeehah!!

  • Jeff Miller

    Do you know what rendering engine Outlook uses for HTML? Microsoft switched to Word for the rendering engine in Outlook 2007. Word unfortunately has TERRIBLE HTML support. Wondering if this Mac version of Outlook has the same.

    More info on Outlook’s rendering engine: fixoutlook.org

    • Christopher Anderton

      They using Webkit in Office 2011.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/spyderhoodcommunity Kartik Sehgal

    “Well, there’s the ribbon. Although it’s a handy feature for finding things, it’s in every Office 2011 program, and it clutters up the top of the screen like crazy. ”

    In the Windows version of MS Office we use CTRL+F1 to show / hide the ribbons and I am sure a similar short-cut is available on MAC versions as well.

    • Andrew

      Double-click

  • http://danielw.net Daniel Wiklund

    I used MS Office 2004 when i first started on Mac, and quickly found out that it was a complete waste of time… i crashed constantly and it had a terrible user interface, so i started to use iWork for a short time, but i really didn’t like the pages application as a rich text editor, then one of my friends told me about OpenOffice and i have been loving it ever since.

    OpenOffice is not the fastest application to start up and it doesn’t have all the features of MS office, BUT it is free and taking that into the consideration i think it is one of the best office suites out there.

    And then my question is why haven’t you compered MS office to both iWorks and OpenOffice ?

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  • Teddy Novak

    Very buggy. Has crashed several times Crashed today and lost half-a-days work because the autosave didn’t work. Not reliable. Regret buying.

    • Jason

      It’s astonishingly buggy – I’m currently getting a crash around every 5 minutes that I attempt to use it. I’ve applied all applicable updates as soon as they come out, and they seem to (if anything) make it worse. Sigh :(

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  • Marc Robertson

    Word for Mac 2011 is a shocker. The whole thing is so unstable you lose your work if it gets even the slightest problem. Crash, crash, crash. Autosave doesn’t actually work either, even if you set it to autosave for each document at 1 minute it resets itself to 10 minutes and then, being a Microsoft product, doesn’t actually autosave anything at all. When it crashes (every say ten to fifteen minutes) it simply returns you to the version of the document you manually saved. All in all, I give it 1 out of 10. Microsoft please actually launch a product that works for once.

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  • Jay

    I’ve had minimal issues, however there is one BIG one – I use Office 2010 at work and have a corporate exchange server (2010) that is also connected to a BES (Blackberry). Outlook 2011 does something different with personal contacts which breaks the e-mail link with our GAL – to simplify, any personal contact with an e-mail address in our corporate domain (i.e. @mycompany.com) I could not send e-mails to rom Outlook 2010 or my blackberry!

    I am surprised that with this complete change from Entourage, there weren’t more similarities as well as compatibilities with the Windows counterpart.

  • jamie

    garbage. stay away. when will Microsoft make office work for mac? no clue.

  • Andrew

    So horrible! I just couldn’t insert shapes. Keeps on never-ending beach ball everytime I try to. I ended up drawing the stuff BY COLORED PENS on several pages of seven copies of the document!

    • Alex

      I am having the same problem with the Insert Shape – every time – it just crashes – grrrrrr – any ideas anyone????

  • John

    The absence of Translator as available in 2002 and 2007 is a nuisance

  • Coach RS

    There appears to be a flaw in the excel 2011 software. Files that are transferred that have links to other files will not display numbers in the linked cells, even if you ignore the links, unless the computer has access to the link files. Discussed this with Microsoft personnel and they are the ones who indicated linked files need to be on the same computer. Unbelievable!!!

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