It might not be entirely fair to suggest that Microsoft's new Office for Mac 2011 — due in stores Oct. 26 — is a Microsoft Windows "killer." After all, Microsoft has a fair amount invested in the Windows operating system and its applications, which run on it.
However, I believe it is entirely fair to suggest that the pending release of this new productivity suite will knock down, for many, one of the very last barriers to bringing Apple's Macintosh operating system and hardware into enterprise domains where Windows has held hegemonic sway.
With this new software, there's practically no reason for most "knowledge workers" to be told they can only do their organization's business on a Windows PC, and nothing else. The "iron curtain" of IT has been torn asunder.
The principal change is the arrival of Outlook for Mac 2011. Yes, I said Outlook, the same enterprise-computing standard for e-mail, calendaring and so forth. I've been working with several Beta versions of the entire Office suite and, on the whole, Outlook has made a tremendous translation. It is virtually indistinguishable from the Outlook 2010 version available to Windows users. It works well in a Mac environment, storing messages individually so that the Mac OS indexing system can find items with ease.
In day-to-day e-mail situations, Outlook 2011 is, generally, a delight to use. Mail can be organized into file folders, designated by account, and you can assign different e-mail "signatures" to different accounts.
All that is pretty standard, of course, for e-mail applications, but it's nice to see Outlook conform to the marketplace, with one glaring exception: Microsoft still won't offer Mac users the delivery and "read" receipt options it does on Windows. I can't understand that, but perhaps I'm in the tiny minority of folks who want/need confirmation that an e-mail has been delivered or read.
Another plus: easy and compatible "subscription" to group calendars maintained via Microsoft Exchange. Again, it's a plus for those of us in office work groups.
Next after Outlook, the application with the greatest improvement, in my view, is Excel for Mac 2011. Visual Basic Macros have returned, after a nearly three-year absence. That might not seem like much, except if you use expense report spreadsheets, or other kinds, which use the macros to calculate various fields and totals.
The return of the macros means users will have true file compatibility with their Windows counterparts, again knocking down another barrier to Mac use in corporate situations. I can report the macros work just fine in the Beta software I've tested.
While I have moments of admiration for Microsoft's PowerPoint, the most I can say for the Mac version is that it is feature-rich and, again, compatible with its Windows cousin.
However, many Mac users, this reviewer included, appreciate Apple's Keynote presentation software so much that we'd be a little reluctant to switch. This, however, is a highly personal matter: if you are in an enterprise and you're mandated to use PowerPoint, then PowerPoint you shall use. The great news here is that you'll lose very little in the new Mac version.
To close this very brief survey — more may appear in subsequent weeks — let me say that Word for Mac 2011 is well and truly equivalent to the Windows product, is tremendously easy to use, and, again, is thoroughly compatible across platforms. There are many elements in Word 2011 which might lend itself to ad hoc desktop publishing, but for most of us, Word is, and will remain, the best way to write letters, reports, documents and, if needed, have those files put into a "desktop" format using more professional-level applications.
Overall, Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 is a tremendous advancement because it fully connects the Mac world to the Windows community. It took a tad longer for this wall to come down than did the one in Berlin 21 years ago, but the revolutionary import is in the same league. Information on the software is at www.mactopia.com.
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