Office on the Mac has always been considered a bit of an after-thought, but with Apple’s dumbing down of its iWork apps, Microsoft has gone to great lengths to give the first new version of Office in five years a real shot in the arm.

Office 2016 is all about the cloud – it’s tightly integrated into Microsoft’s OneDrive and SharePoint services, but you don’t need to use either if you have no desire to (at least during the preview period). Its codebase has been completely refreshed and optimised for modern Macs, and it’s designed to work beautifully on Retina displays.

Like the previous version, it consists of five apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote, and each has been updated and redesigned to fit in with the modern Office look that’s been rolled out on other platforms while ensuring it fits in with the OS X look.

Veteran users will notice the ribbon has been updated along with the task pane to make features more immediate and visible. Word users gain a handy new Design tab for managing a document’s layout, and a Navigation sidebar (confusingly referred to as Document Sidebar) for working more efficiently with larger documents.

Excel’s new features bring it in line with Excel 2013 on Windows, and include a new Analysis Toolpak offering a wide number of statistical functions, as well as a PivotTable Slicer, which is designed to pick out patterns from large volumes of data.

PowerPoint debuts a new Presenter View that makes it easier than ever to present your slideshow, plus a new animation pane is supplemented with a number of new slide transition effects.

The suite is rounded off with the latest version of Outlook for Mac, recently released as a standalone product, and OneNote. The Mac version of the latter remains less powerful than on other platforms, but is slowly catching up. Version 15.8 improves its sharing capabilities.

Regardless of how you feel about Microsoft on the Mac platform, there’s no doubt this is the slickest, most feature-packed version of Office yet. If you’re looking for a serious office package, this is it.

Note: this is the Preview version, which is free during the remainder of beta testing. The final version is due later this year.

Verdict

It’s not as beautiful or well integrated as the iPad version, but Office for Mac 2016 is a major leap forward from previous versions and scores where it counts: in functionality and power.