Office:Mac v.X

There have been many versions of Office in the past. Some have been good, a few notoriously bad. Office:Mac v.X is bound to raise some controversy, being for Mac OS X only. But it’s certainly the best Office yet, and by some measure.
The most striking thing about v.X is the lush Aqua interface. Microsoft worked very hard to make it as beautiful as the OS X interface. Some aspects, such as the Genie Effect, may be a little frivolous, but I know PC users can hardly believe their eyes.

The improvements are more than skin-deep though. Stability in OS X is rock solid, and in the unlikely event of a crash, OS X ensures that the other applications are unaffected. Microsoft has also made good use of other under-the-hood technologies such as Quartz, Carbon Events and Sheets.

Quartz is the 2D drawing engine of OS X. It brings features like transparency and antialiasing to Office. Now when creating a chart in Excel, you can have translucent bar-charts with exquisitely smooth text. The same goes for PowerPoint, Excel and even Entourage.

Entourage was one of the best new Office features in 2001. In v.X it gets better still. The layout has been changed so that the other elements, such as the Calendar and Notes panels, are more accessible.

There are a couple of disappointments, though. The shortcuts are now different, despite being only the second release of Entourage. In the past, you could view only unread messages by hitting -Y, now it’s -Shift-O. It’s quite a difference, and I don’t relish relearning the rest of the short cuts. Entourage is now much more adept at adding extra formatting to emails. Now, you can add a background image, add pictures within the text, and even include movies and audio files. All this stuff appears with varying amounts of success in different email packages. Of course, other Office v.X users will get all the formatting correctly, but users of the original Entourage miss some features. People using older email packages – or, heaven forbid, email apps made by other companies – will get even less of the formatting.

On message

One thing to beware of is adding audio or video files. These can massively increase the size of messages, beyond just the size of the attachment. If you want to stay friends with Mr IT manager, use this feature sparingly.

The calendar has had a bit of a makeover, and now looks very fetching. It has a tasteful colour scheme, and the antialiasing makes it easy on the eye. Printing a calendar is also more straightforward than before, thanks to a proper preview.

Word is probably the most familiar component of Office, and there aren’t any really radical changes to it apart from the look of the interface. A minor one is the multi-selection ability. This lets you select non-contiguous pieces of text for formatting or deleting. This is a welcome addition to the option-click ability to highlight text vertically. Another minor, yet welcome, addition to the style options is Clear Formatting. Getting rid of formatting has been hard to do in the past. My preferred method has been to save as plain text, and then reopen the file. This addition means I can do the same thing quickly and easily.

Transparency and the Quartz graphics layer means graphics in Word are better than ever. It isn’t about to replace XPress or InDesign, but it does offer a pretty good selection of tools for creating business graphics. It even has some image-effects filters.

Mail merge has been improved, allowing individual addresses to be added instead of your whole address book. I don’t use this feature much, but Microsoft claims you can do a mail merge in 10 clicks instead of 50 clicks with Office 98. There are many more minor enhancements, but the main point is having Word run natively in Mac OS X.

Excel also gets the Aqua treatment, with nice touches such as drop-shadows on active cells and spiffy charts. One new feature that – shockingly – wasn’t already available is AutoRecover. However, now you shouldn’t need it, because you are likely to crash.

Again, most of the enhancements are fairly minor – but welcome – updates. The euro is now available as a currency format, and Excel can import directly from FileMaker 5.5. Also, the calculator feature gives new users a more intuitive way of creating formulae than the traditional method.

PowerPoint gains a lot from the Quartz interface and looks fantastic for it. Of course, the new Quartz features of PowerPoint v.X are only available for OS X. If you try and play back your presentation in an older version of Office, you may be disappointed.

PowerPoint can now create packages that play back from CD-ROM or other media. It’s similar to the XPress collect for print command, gathering all the relevant media into one folder. It should save on embarrassing “oops-I-forgot-to copy-across-the-movie-files” moments when presenting. For even easier presenting, you can save presentations as QuickTime movies.

That covers the main features of Office v.X, but there are also some new extras thrown in, such as MSN Messenger. This, like the AOL instant messenger, lets you communicate with other users in real time – rather than using pokey old email. Actually, I think I might be a little too old for this stuff. Instant-messenger software and text messaging on a mobile are firmly in the domain of people with more to say than me. I like email. I use it all the time, but the thought of being available for people to type at me live gives me the willies.

Another freebie is the Windows Media Player – although it’s also available free as a download.

OUR VERDICT

I love OS X, and I use Office every day, most of the day. Office v.X is something I have been desperately waiting for, and doubtless many others have, too. I am pleased to say they won’t be disappointed – Office v.X fully lives up to its promise. You won’t be able to experience the benefits of Office v.X until you have upgraded to Mac OS X. The success of OS X and Office v.X is inevitable – although the timing of people’s transitions is difficult to determine. Microsoft’s Office v.X will encourage people to make the move sooner rather than later.

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