Office 2008 for Mac was released yesterday; and, of course, I had to go out and get a copy of it last night. I’ve been running it since and have to say that it was worth the money I paid for it. The best value is the “Home and Student” version of the soft ware which, for only $149.99, lets you install three copies of itself as long as they are for “non-commercial” use. I have a copy of the premiere version with the Microsoft Media management and Exchange Server functions coming; more on that later when it arrives which is still some six to eight weeks away. For this review, too, I’m only going to discuss Word 2008. I haven’t had the time to do anything with Excel, PowerPoint, or Entourage other than glance at them.
That said, other than the fact that this is a Universal software package making Office finally Intel-native, the best description I can give you of the new software is in two words: “iWork competitor”. I say that not because I think iWork has anywhere near the depth that Office does but because the Office and, specifically, the Word interface copies Pages' and at least one feature of Keynote not previously found in PowerPoint is now there.
Like Pages, Word’s default workspace has a large, grey toolbar with only a minimum of functions, i.e., New, Open, Save, Print, Undo, Redo (greyed out unless active), Format (painter), Tables, Columns, Show, Navigation, Gallery (greyed or active depending on what View is selected) icon. The usual toolbars one expects to see in Word are still there and selectable, but the default workspace has the main toolbar and opens the Formatting Palette. Frankly, I like working with that configuration and my wife does, too; she feels it’s easier to find everything that way.
The “Show” icon controls whether publishing marks are shown on the page, and the Navigation icon controls whether a “navigation bar” is presented along the left margin of the screen. The bar contains thumbnail presentations of each page in the document, and you can scroll to and select any you wish. The Gallery icon is inactive if the document is in Draft View but active in Page Layout or Publishing Layout View. If it’s active, a very small bar with the following tabs appears: Document Elements, Quick Tables, Charts, SmartArt Graphics, and WordArt.
Clicking on a tab opens another small toolbar and a larger bar containing thumbnails of the templates or types of items available for each category. Clicking on one of the thumbnails or icons reformats the current document to match what is shown. This provides a very fast way of applying a template to a new document or applying a specific format to a template or document instead of doing it at the formation of the document as you would do in Pages or Office 2004. Luckily, the toolbar containing the tabs (Document Elements) is not very intrusive if you’re not using any of its functions but are simply typing in Page Layout or Publishing Layout views. When I had seen the demos of this functionality a few months ago on a Microsoft website, I wasn’t sure if this feature would turn me off so much I wouldn’t want to use this version of Office; but I’m finding it’s not getting in my way and might even come in handy.
As you might expect, overall responsiveness of the application is excellent.
In Print Layout view, Word presents your document as a single or dual page layout view depending upon the screen resolution, the assigned width of the document, and the amount of Zoom. In Draft view, it always presents a single page layout view. (I usually run it in “Page Width” mode while in this view.) It switches between views instantly (on my 2.33 GHz MacBook Pro with 3 GB RAM). I’ve seen a few graphics artifacts (incomplete line redraws) but they’ve cleared with any kind of screen re-draw.
Like Office 2007, Office 2008 saves its files in the new but proprietary Microsoft XML format. I’ve opened XML formatted files from Office 2007 with 2008 and vice versa quickly and with no losses. Keep in mind, though, that Office 2004 users or Office v.X users will not be able to open your files unless you save them out in the “Word 97-2004” format on a Mac or “Word 98-2003” format on a Windows PC. You can choose to do this each time you save a document or go into Preferences/Save and change the default format to the older “Word 97-2004” format so you don’t have to worry with it. For the time being, since I’ve upgraded all the Macs in our house to the Office 2008, I’m saving files in the new .docx format if they're not leaving the premises.
While I really like Office 2007’s new ribbon interface, I have to say I like Office 2008’s interface better. My wife does, too. I suspect the only time I’ll be using Office 2007 now is when I’m using Windows, either via VMware’s Fusion or Apple’s Boot Camp. I like this new Office, and I’m glad I bought it.
Does that mean I don’t have a use for Pages? Nope. I’ve used Pages to make some really nice newsletters, so I tend to turn to it for simple desktop publishing needs first. I’ll look at Office 2008 if Pages won’t do what I want or if Office has a template I like better. But I doubt if I’ll use Pages for any word processing; I’ve never liked it much for that, preferring Word instead.
My wife tends to use Keynote rather than PowerPoint, and she says it’s better. Maybe so. My workplace is still standardized on PowerPoint, so I tend to use it more and reserve looking at Keynote for only personal needs, and those are few and far between.
I’ve only glanced at Numbers and have no plans to use it instead of Excel. The opposite is true of Entourage. I never use it any more, preferring Apple’s Mail and iCal instead. I’ll look at Entourage a little more once I get the “premium” version of Office 2008 with its improved Exchange server support.
Would I recommend this version of Office? Yep. If you’ve got an Intel-Mac, it’s a no-brainer. Even if you’ve got a PPC Mac, you still might want to take a look at it. Its new features and integration between applications makes it a better value than Office 2004, as good as that suite is. I can’t address the performance side of that recommendation, however; I don’t have a PPC Mac in the house to run a comparison on. Drop me a line if you can comment on that. I’ll post your comments here.