Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac full review - Page 2

Tables (previously known as lists) have similarly gotten a full makeover in Excel 2011. Creating tables is as simple as selecting your data and choosing a layout from the Ribbon (or from the menus). Once you've done that, it’s easy to filter and sort your data.

Sorting and filtering in general is better in Excel 2011 than in Excel 2007 and 2010 for Windows. You can create multi-select filter conditions without using custom filters; sort or filter on a font color or cell color; see matches immediately as you create your filter; and utilize built-in filters (such as Above Average or Below Average) to speed your work.

Macros are back

Excel 2011 addresses one of my major complaints about its predecessor: no support for macros. Macros (via Microsoft’s Visual Basic for Applications) are back in Excel 2011, which means I can finally retire my copy of Office 2004, the last version to support macros.

Excel 2011 supports some new macro features, such as the ability to set watch points, and it handled all of my existing macro spreadsheets (including a complex model containing custom menus and input forms) just fine. In addition, Microsoft says that cross-platform macro compatibility with the Windows version of Excel has been improved, although I was unable to test this.

While many Mac users may never use macros, their return is good news for power users and those who work in cross-platform environments.

Sharing and protecting spreadsheets

If you share your Excel projects with others, Excel 2011 has more to offer than previous versions. In the past, you could protect a worksheet’s cells, contents, and scenarios, and lock or unlock a given cell for editing.

Microsoft Excel 2011 for Mac
Better protection: Excel 2011 offers greater flexibility in sheet protection.

In Excel 2011, however, you can protect a cell’s contents while allowing changes to formatting. You can also allow or prevent insertion and deletion of rows and columns, use of filters and sorting, and more. These features match the protection options available in Windows versions of Excel, making for better cross-platform compatibility.

Beyond enhanced worksheet protection, Excel 2011 offers full information rights management, which allows users in a corporate environment to specify users and groups of users with rights to a workbook, including restricting who can read, print, forward, edit, or copy its contents.

If your sharing needs are simpler, you can save directly to Windows Live SkyDrive (free; 25GB of storage) from within Excel 2011. Once you've saved your documents to SkyDrive, you can access and edit them online, from any browser, using the Excel Web App. With the Web application, you can edit your worksheet, and open the modified copy in Excel on your Mac. Multiple people can even edit the spreadsheet at the same time, similar to the way you can collaboratively edit a Google Docs spreadsheet. In my test of this feature, it worked well enough. The Web version's features are nowhere near as extensive as the desktop version's, but most of the basics are there. In addition, the sparklines in my test file updated when I changed their base values in the Web application, though you can’t actually create sparklines in the Web application.

Some room for improvement

While this release makes great progress with the user interface and feature set, there are still things that don’t work quite as you’d expect. Excel uses its own dictionary and thesaurus instead of the OS X-provided tools; Command-A won't select all the text in the formula bar; and, very annoyingly, OS X's Services are still not available. The fact that these features don't work in Excel will be disappointing for those hoping for a fully "Mac like" application.

In addition to the lack of Mac-expected interface features, Excel 2011’s performance is a bit uneven. When you're scrolling large spreadsheets (either by clicking and holding on a thumb scroller or by drag-scrolling), the sheet feels like it's moving quite slowly, even on current hardware. In back-to-back comparisons between Excel 2004, 2008, and 2011, the 2011 release was easily the slowest of the three—it took over six times as long to scroll through my test document as did Excel 2004. (Microsoft has told us they slowed the scrolling down due to user complaints about it being too fast. While it may have been too fast in Excel 2004, it's currently twice as slow as Excel 2008, which seems like an excessive slowdown to me.) When you add in the lag-on-window-resize, the Excel 2011 interface can feel slow at times.

When put to a number-crunching test, however, Excel 2011 showed great results. Using a 15,000-row by 22-column worksheet containing a mix of slow-to-calculate formulas, Office 2004 and 2008 each took more than five seconds to recalculate. Excel 2011, on the other hand, didn’t even blink, recalculating the same test worksheet in well under a second. So while Excel 2011’s on-the-surface performance suffers compared to its predecessors, it’s clearly working much more efficiently under the hood. To me, this is the stronger measure of performance, as it's the one that will most affect the ability to get things done with Excel—not waiting on calculations in large worksheets will be a huge timesaver.

I saw similar results with all the workbooks I tested; they scrolled better in prior versions of Excel, but Excel 2011 easily trounced its predecessors in speed of calculation.

In addition to my tests, Macworld Lab ran a series of benchmark tests. Overall, Excel 2011 performed faster than Excel 2008 in the Lab tests.

[Macworld US senior contributor Rob Griffiths is Master of Ceremonies at Many Tricks.]


Find the best price

Best prices today

Retailer Price Delivery  

Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide