With something as ubiquitous as office software suites, you can’t blame me for being cynical about reviewing Office 2008 for Mac. After all, there’s a high chance you’d already get it anyway, unless you’re some kind of open-source fanboy who only uses alternatives like OpenOffice, or for that matter Google Docs or Zoho.
Still, it’s been a good four years since we had a new Office for Mac, so I thought it’d be important to highlight some of the significant changes Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit has managed to cook up.
Top Ten Things about Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac:
1. How’s the speed?
One of the most popular questions I got was on speed. The new Office for Mac is written in Universal Binary, which closes a blinding gap left in our universe of native Intel Mac applications. I tried timing the startup time of each application with its predecessor, but it got tiresome having to to flush the system cache for a truer test. I also figured that it wasn’t just the application start-up time which mattered as much as overall performance, such as when changing font in Word, performing complex formulas in Excel and so on. As with all monolithic applications, Office will take a while to start. However, you’d be please to know that on my MacBook Pro, startup time has marginally improved, saving a few seconds of launch time. The refreshed Office 2008 interface has more flair now, but isn’t bogged down in terms of speed at all. Verdict: Cuts A Little Faster!
2. Ribbon interface for everyone!
It started with Microsoft Office 2007 for Windows, where the entire tool bar interface had been revamped with a simplified, though very different, graphical approach. While it threw off a lot of us veteran Office users, most of us eventually came to terms with it. Great for new users, a little relearning for veteran users. I personally like it, as the ribbon interface seems reminiscent of the iWork and iLife, plus it actually behaves like the Mac OSX dock, complete with icon magnification and drag ‘n drop functionality. Incidentally, you can collapse both the toolbar and ribbon menu to get more document work space. Earlier versions of Microsoft Word for Mac was infamous for numerous toolbars which took up too much screen real estate. Verdict: Pretty smart!
3. Publishing Layout: Office 2008 pays compliment to iWork
The Microsoft Office 2008 can be said to be more Mac-like. The Publishing Layout workflow lets you build pretty documents quickly (much like iWork) through the use of themed documents. For instance, the newsletter above came as a neatly designed template, leaving you to simply replace the content with your own. Verdict: Microsoft’s own iWork
4. Document Elements: The “Lego” of Paper Writing
Document Elements. Under this ribbon item, you get Cover Pages, Table of Contents, Header, Footer and Bibliographies. Some of these elements were available in earlier versions of Office, except that in this 2008 version, the organization of these elements makes using them much clearer and obvious. Verdict: Timesaver!
5. Slick 3D Charts (especially for Keynote fans)
If you’re an Excel addict or simply love presenting statistics visually with Powerpoint, you’ll love the bevy of charting features offered in the new Office for Mac. It almost mirrors Apple’s Keynote and Numbers in making it easy to generate visually pleasing charts. Under the Charts ribbon menu, you’ll get charts types including Area, Bar, Bubble, Column, Doughnut, Line, Pie, Radar, Stock, Surface, as well as X/Y Scatter plots. Verdict: See more, Read Less!
6. Introducing SmartArt Graphics (especially for Omnigraffle fans)
As a reflection of my state of mind, I kept writing “SmartAss Graphics”. It might as well be, since is an addition I really like. Besides creating slick statistical charts, Office 2008 now lets you indulge in the use relational graphics to help get your points across. At first it reminded me of Omnigraffle, a popular Mac app for creating great flowcharts easily, but SmartArt Graphics is more structured, where it involves more fill in the blanks than drawing. There’s a lot to choose from in this department: Lists, Processes, Cycles, Hierarchies, Relationships, Matrices, and Pyramids. Verdict: Brings the Sexy Back!
7. For graduate students, there’s Citations (especially for EndNote fans)
The most popular reference manager application out there would be EndNote, If your involved with research writing, you’d love this new Citations feature. Two ways this shows up in your document: 1) Citations panel lets you add / edit and manage various lists of references, 2) Insert “Bibliographies” under Document Elements to dynamically display your citations. Simple to use and to good effect. Verdict: Built-in librarian!
8. Making it “My Day”…
My Day is a widget-like application which sums up your day in terms of events and to-dos. As this Ars Technica review noted, it should really should belong in the dashboard. Verdict: An out-of-place handyman!
9. Rejoice and Beware: Open XML file format
Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac uses the same file format as Office 2007 for Windows: Open XML. I believe that this move is meant to future-proof how Office documents are saved, by making them more open-standards compatible. The price of this move is that the native file format won’t work with older versions of Office. Two solutions around that: 1) Save in an older compatible format (i.e. Office 97-2004 format), 2) Use Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter for Mac. Verdict: Pre-emptive thanks?
10. Little things that matter…
Among the big changes to Office 2008, there are little add-ons that matter to the rest of us. Powerpoint 2008 can now be controlled by the Apple Remote and exports slides to your iPod, while Entourage 2008 supposedly works reliably in Exchange environments, freeing you from Windows Outlook when working with your colleagues. There’s also Automator support so you now do nifty things, such as batch convert your Word documents to PDF, or listen to your Entourage email on your iPod. Verdict: Nifty!
Granted in four years, you’d think Microsoft Office 2008 would have been incredibly better, especially in terms of speed. Still, it’s a must-have as some of the features it incorporates from popular standalone apps you might have used (e.g. iWork, Omigraffle, Endnote, etc). You’ll be able to experience Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac for yourself when it’s released on the 15th. Want a deal on it? You have till the end of today to ordering the older Office 2004 for Mac: Student and Teacher Edition for around $130, then redeem it for the newer Office 2008 for Mac worth around US$399. Works only in North America (includes Canada) and you can read the details on this Super Suite Deal Redemption Form PDF. Good luck!