Yes, there’s another new version of Office for the Mac. This one is worth it. Mac Advisor hed: Office comes to OS X dek: yes, there’s another new version of Office for the Mac. this one is worth it. by Dennis Sellers
Not counting Apple’s own Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro, the two most anticipated native applications for Mac OS X have been Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop.
The Mac OS X version of Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, and DVD Studio are still in the works. Don’t hold your breath expecting to see them before January. However, Microsoft Office for Mac OS X–dubbed, appropriately, Office X–is here now. And though many Mac fans are understandably averse to Microsoft products, it’s an excellent (and very Mac-like) suite of products.
Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (Mac BU) claims it didn’t merely port Office to Mac OS X, but instead completely re-architected the product with 25 million lines of code, 50 shared libraries, 8,257 files, and 800 dialog boxes. What’s more, there are 700 new Aquafied toolboxes (Aqua is Mac OS X’s user interface). All this work shows, because Office X is gorgeous to behold.
But it doesn’t just look pretty. It takes advantage of the operating system’s powerful features, including the following:
Office X adds functionality for Sheets (which give users an immediate visual connection between a dialog box and the respective document it affects); Quartz 2D drawing technology; Carbon Events Framework (which lets Mac OS X run applications as efficiently as possible); Native Mac OS X controls; QuickTime movies and transitions; Drag and drop, and OS X native navigation services.
It also offers fluid compatibility with other versions of Office. Office X users can share files freely with users of Office 2001 for Mac, Office 98 Macintosh Edition, Office XP, Office 2000, and Office 97 for Windows. To make life simpler in a cross-platform world, Office X includes the awkwardly named “Save As Includes Append File” extension. Although the suite possesses the same file format as the aforementioned Office versions, exchanging files can be tricky because of the differences in how Mac and Windows operating systems distinguish files.
Windows systems require files to include a three-letter extension (such as DOC, XLS, and PPT) to identify the correct application needed to open the file. In the Save As dialog box in each Office X application, the check box that will attach the file extension to the file is automatically checked. What’s more, “smart” attachments in Entourage X include the option to append the file extension to outgoing documents to ease sharing files across platforms. I’ve been able to seamlessly exchange files with my brother, who has Office 2000 running on a PC–though I haven’t yet tried Office XP file swapping.
There are several enhancements common to all the components of Office X. There’s a new “Based on Recent” category in the Project Gallery, which offers an easy way to base new documents on ones you’ve previously created. A preview pane displays copies of up to 27 of the most recently used files from each Office X app. You can change the files at will. Since they’re copies and not the actual files, you don’t have to worry about losing data when you alter them; everything in the original file remains intact.
Many of what Microsoft calls “discoverability features” of Mac OS X have been included throughout Office X. One cool new addition to the Formatting Palette is the Genie Effect. Click on the button in the top right of the palette’s window and it floats to the Office X toolbar, conserving desktop space. Click on its toolbar icon and it floats back out to full size.
Office X also offers access to Office Tools on the Web. Office Tools on the Web offers electronic services from the Office Web site. You can use the tools to do things like look up contact information, add that info to Entourage X, or find maps to import into a Word document.
The most revised component of Office X is Entourage, the personal-information manager. Entourage X sports a redesigned and enhanced calendar. The main window arranges buttons and folders more logically than they were arranged in Entourage 2001. It groups six of the most important functions together in two rows of buttons. Entourage X relegates folder navigation to a separate window. These changes make for an improved user experience.
A tri-pane calendar window displays schedules by month, week, or day, and includes a Task List that simultaneously shows the day’s events and tasks. New scheduling tools in the calendar make it easier to send and receive meeting requests from Outlook users.
Meeting requests and responses to users reached via the Internet are sent using the iCalendar format, a standard that specifies the formatting and exchange of calendar event information and applies standard formats for meeting requests and responses when sent as e-mail messages.
The X version makes a big improvement on the Custom Views feature. With it, you can create and save personalized views several different ways. Through the main Custom Views tab within the Entourage X user interface, you have access to pre-existing views such as unread e-mail, flagged messages, and messages received today that appear in their mailbox. Plus, you can now see views in their Address Book, Calendar, Notes, and Tasks from the same location.
Word X has a new multiselection feature that lets you edit multiple pieces of text at the same time. Multiselection lets you command-click multiple selections of text within a Word document and apply formatting, spelling, researching, or any other operation to the chosen selections. You can also use Find All to avoid having to use Find and Replace with text-formatting enabled. As a writer, I use my word processor more than any other application, and these changes are true time savers.
The new Clear Formatting feature lets you remove a document’s formatting. Instead of removing and resetting each type of formatting individually, you can use Clear Formatting to swiftly reset characters and paragraphs, set the default text style, and restore hyperlinks.
Word X also takes advantage of Mac OS X’s Quartz graphic engine to let you add a percentage of transparency to any drawing or shape. You can lay shapes and images on top of text or one another.
Contact info from the Office Address Book is accessible directly from Word X’s Contact toolbar, which makes it simple to insert names, addresses, and phone numbers directly from within Word X. The toolbar even makes it easier to take a new contact from a Word X document, add it to Entourage X’s Address Book, and send out info using Word X’s Data Merge Manager.
Speaking of which, Data Merge Manager has a cleaner user interface in Office X. You can now choose individual addresses from the Address Book, rather than being forced to merge the entire Address Book as before.
Perhaps the coolest change in Excel is how it also takes advantage of Quartz to let you create some really spiffy charts with transparency. What’s more, Quartz makes the border and lines in spreadsheet graphics (such as pie charts) clean and smooth thanks to anti-aliasing, eliminating the accursed jaggies.
There are also new customizable keyboard shortcuts. In Office 2001, many of the keyboard shortcuts were changed from Office 98, resulting in some confusion. In Excel X, you can set up your keyboard as you’re accustomed to when working in another Office for Mac-based app such as Word X.
Plus, Excel X includes an import wizard for FileMaker Pro 5.5 to let you import data from FM Pro 3 and higher database files directly into Excel X worksheets.
While I wish it included some new or improved presentation templates, PowerPoint X is still a nice overhaul. It too takes advantage of Quartz to let you create eye-popping graphics by setting a specific percentage of transparency to art.
What’s more, PowerPoint X also takes more advantage of Apple’s QuickTime multimedia technology. PowerPoint X includes improvements to PowerPoint movies, which let you save your presentations as QuickTime movies. PowerPoint movies now provide a higher level of fidelity between the original presentation and the movie you create. What’s more, you can now include any combination of animations, QT transitions, and interactive features such as action buttons and hyperlinks in your PowerPoint movies. And they can be shared with anyone who has the cross-platform QuickTime Player installed. Plus, you can make your slides flow more smoothly during presentations by creating customized QT transitions or choosing from numerous existing ones. You’ll also find that Quartz’s transparency features in PowerPoint X let you create new Fade In and Fade Out effects between slides.
Also sweet is the fact that PowerPoint X now offers a new, simple way to collect and save all your media in one PowerPoint Package. Movies, sounds, and images intended for use in a presentation can be saved, stored in an individual folder, and transferred intact to other users’ machines and electronic media such as CD-ROMs or a network share.
If you traverse the jungles of the business world and love Mac OS X, Office X is a must-have survival tool. Lots of Mac users can survive just fine with Apple’s own excellent AppleWorks, which costs about one-fourth as much as Office X.