First Impressions: Microsoft Office Mac 2011

Screen shot 2010 11 29 at 1.31.24 PMOffice Mac 2011 came out recently and I’ve had a few days to work with it. These are my first impressions.

My main use of Office on the Mac is to be compatible with Office users on Windows. At work I occasionally use Word and Excel on Windows. I use Google Docs a lot more, but when I do use Office it’s for something that’s too complicated for Google Docs.  So on the few occasions that I do use them, I use them quite extensively. Otherwise I need to use them quite a bit for the work I do as my local Lion’s Club secretary. The clubs owns a Windows laptop with Office and while I do most of my work on my Macbook, I will need to hand it over to someone else at some point and they will need to be able to have access to everything on the club’s laptop.

As for my main use case, that of document compatibility, I think that Office Mac is superb. I have yet to run into any problems, though I do need to copy the occasional Microsoft Works document over to Windows to import into Word. I don’t usually have to move overly complex documents and I haven’t yet tried out the new VBA support in Excel, so I can’t say for sure that compatibility is perfect.

I am not really a big fan of the ribbon, so I’m glad that it can be disabled. I haven’t yet disabled it and I probably won’t, but it’s nice to know that I can if it gets too annoying. I do understand where Microsoft is going with the ribbon, and I agree that it is the right direction. My problem is that normal menus are still so ingrained in my psyche that I get frustrated when I use the ribbon, even if I don’t get lost. I don’t use Office enough to get over that steep learning curve quickly, so here I am many months after first using the ribbon and I’m still pretty low on that curve. It also drives me nuts when companies use the ribbon when they don’t really need to. If your app started out with only 15 menu items and 10 toolbar buttons, you don’t have to use a ribbon just because Microsoft does. At some point the ribbon may become the default standard, but I can see that Microsoft is still tweaking it with each release enough to make me want to wait… /end rant

I don’t use Outlook so I don’t really have an opinion on its inclusion. I was always a bit baffled by the distinction between Entourage and Outlook, but not using either I don’t have a grasp for how good it is to now include Outlook. I would love to see Access included, though. Or, more accurately, would have loved to see it a couple years ago. I don’t use it on Windows much anymore, so my desire to see it on Mac has waned. But there was a time when I was dying to see it.

Compared to iWork I think that Office has stepped up a bit. I will use Numbers any time that I don’t absolutely have to use Excel. But it’s still toss up between Word and Pages. I like Pages for quick documents, especially when I need to do some layout for a flier or brochure. Word has made the choice more difficult with the new publishing layout view which gives me a lot of the same control I got with Pages. For more business-oriented documents, such as whitepapers and meeting minutes, I still prefer Word over Pages but it’s a small lead. It’s still too close between them to call.

And lastly, the cloud. I haven’t played with the cloud features of the new Office, but I understand that they are very nice. As I mentioned before, we use Google Docs at work and it’s sufficient for what we do. Microsoft does seem to have a compelling alternative, though, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

In summary, the upgrade is really worth it if you were dying for VBA or Outlook or the cloud, but otherwise it’s a pretty pedestrian update that’s made some nice improvements.