Microsoft Office for Mac 2008

June 1st, 2008 Desktop, Software, Tech

The good news — Microsoft Office has been updated. The bad news — many of the changes aren’t aimed at you.

Many of the new abilities in Word and Excel are in the areas of layout and drawing tools to make your documents and spreadsheets look good enough to present. If you’re a secretary they’re probably great, but if you design printed material for a living with far better tools, the capabilities in Office 2008 for Mac will be somewhere between irrelevant and amateurish.

Which leaves us with aesthetic and usability changes. Aesthetically, it looks like it belongs in 2008, with more ‘alive’ buttons and icons and a sleeker, more OSX-like profile that makes good use of the expended graphic capabilities of more recent versions of Mc’s OS.

The suite still contains the same elements; Word, Excel, Entourage, Powerpoint and MSN. Every one of them makes you realise how old the last version (from 2004) looked, from the brighter splash screens on down.

The single new element is My Day, a pretty purple applet that floats above your desktop. It grabs upcoming data from the Entourage calendar and lets you make a To Do list that could become addictive if you give it a go.

A notable omission is the ribbon menu feature Microsoft made so much noise about prior to the new release of Office 2008 for PC. It would have been a fair guess it would form the cornerstone of menu access in Office for Mac, but there’s hardly a step up from 04 to 08, most of the functions you know still in the same place.

The suite seems to be a much larger drain on your system than the previous version, taking much longer to open applications or save files (in the new format of .xlsx, .docx, etc), but we didn’t run into any more random crashes or glitches than before.

Functionally, there are pluses and minuses across the board. The find facility in Entourage 2004 was easy, now it’s been remodelled on the needlessly complicated interface of Outlook’s search tool. But for the first time, Spotlight search covers Entourage emails.

In fact, you’ll spend weeks finding little surprises and niggles. There’s no keyboard shortcut to resend an email when you have the sent message selected, for example, and that great feature that listed the last few open documents at the bottom of the File menu is gone too.

But the most controversial change is far from nigglesome. Microsoft has taken a lot of heat for removing Visual Basic programming, and if you rely on a lot of macros and the keyboard shortcuts to execute them, you may feel such criticism is deserved. Whether it was to eliminate bloatware or remove the means to transmit virii (some of which still travel in Office macros), it’ll leave you high and dry in the most frustrating way. Your options; learn Applescript really quick or tough luck.

None of the changes in Office 2008 render Office 2004 obsolete, so you can certainly survive without upgrading for the foreseeable future, but if your software budget allows for it, there are gains to be had.

Price: $649

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