Microsoft Office for Mac 2008
Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Home and Student Edition $149.95
Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac $399.95, upgrade $239.95
Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition $499.95, upgrade $244.99
Prices listed are retail; discounts are widely available.

Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, introduced January 2008 at Macworld Expo, is the newest version of Microsoft’s industry-standard productivity software suite. Office 2008 is sold in three diferent configurations:
• The Home and Student edition contains the basics – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Entourage and Messenger for Mac – and is licenced for non-commercial use on up to three computers.
• The standard version of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is aimed at business users and adds Microsoft Exchange server support (for companies whose computers are connected to servers) and Automator Actions for Workflows in Microsoft Office.
[Of particular note to user group members: Office 2008’s Automator actions were developed for Microsoft by our own Ben Waldie of Automated Workflows, L.L.C. Ben is president of the Philadelphia Area AppleScript Users Group and has presented for MUG ONE. Kudos to Ben!]
Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition adds the Microsoft Expression Media application (formerly iView Media Pro) for organizing and cataloging media assets – photos, videos, sound files and illustrations – on hard drives, media cards, CDs and DVDs.

Office 2008 for Mac has a new look, and the changes are much more than cosmetic. The working environments for the suite’s core applications have been extensively redesigned, especially those of Word and PowerPoint. Word, Excel and PowerPoint’s standard toolbars are now anchored to a document rather than free-floating and the toolbar icons are well-arranged and clearly labeled, a welcome improvement over the inscrutable hieroglyphics of Office X and 2004.

The updated Toolbox is a single pop-up window for Word, Excel and PowerPoint that brings together the Formatting, Object and Project palettes along with the Scrapbook, Citations, Reference Tools and Compatibility Reports tools, as well as application-specific tools. New to the Formatting Palette is a particularly good collection of Document Themes – fifty coordinated sets with two fonts, eight colors and template effects – that can be applied to Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents to create a consistent look. Viewed as color thumbnails, the themes can be previewed, applied and changed with a click.

The Elements Gallery is another significant new feature available in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Launched from a toolbar icon, the Gallery opens as a collapsible ribbon just below the toolbar that displays an impressive array of publication templates, SmartArt graphics, WordArt (for adding effects to test), charts, slide themes, slide layouts, transitions and more as scrollable color thumbnails. The Gallery feature is a brilliant approach to browsing and applying design features for documents and presentations.

Each application also includes its own set of new and improved features.
Word 2008 adds a Publishing Layout view to support its strengthened desktop publishing capabilities, adding flexible layout tools along with templates for newsletters, flyers, brochures, business cards, postcards, programs, award certificates and even catalogs. A new Print Layout view has templates for easily formatting headers and footers, as well as the elements of a complicated document – cover page, table of contents and bibliography. The improved Notebook view adds a customizable work space (care for a tasteful rosewood background? Or would you prefer blueprint or titanium?) Finally, Word now supports ligatures, joined characters that fit together snugly as opposed to equally spaced as though typed by a typewriter.

Excel 2008 adds improved charting, templates and tools, as well as a very useful collection of pre-formatted ledger sheets in the Elements Gallery. You’ll find sheets for account tracking, invoices, budgets, expense reports and portfolio tracking as well as for email, address guest and gift lists, balancing a checkbook and more. There are also new formula builder and formula auto-complete tools, which help you to create formulas without having to memorize functions or syntax.

In PowerPoint 2008, the presentation-building process has been vastly improved by making the Slide Themes, Slide Layouts and Transitions tools and collections readily available via the Elements Gallery. Slide themes can also be imported from Word or Excel, or customized to match your company’s design and color scheme. To share your presentation with someone who doesn’t have PowerPoint, you can use the iPhoto export tool to convert a PowerPoint presentation to pictures. The presentation is saved to an iPhoto Album which can then be synced to a video iPod, iPod touch or iPhone for viewing. PowerPoint also supports the Apple Remote, a welcome addition for presenters.

Entourage 2008’s major addition is My Day, a mini application that displays your Entourage daily calendar and interactive To Do list in a floating window. Entourage also features a new To Do list, customizable toolbars, improved phishing and junk mail handling, Spotlight searching and a better calendar interface.

Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac also includes Messenger for Mac 7, an instant messenger application built for Mac users in corporations using Office Communications Server 2007.

It’s important to note that Office 2008 for Mac and Office 2007 for Windows save documents in a new XML file format that is not compatible with Office X or 2004, or with Office for Windows XP, 2003 or 2002. When sharing files with users of older versions of Office, Office 2008 users can save Excel, Word and PowerPoint documents in 97-2004 format to avoid problems. Alternatively, Office X and 2004 users can download a free Open XML File Format Converter for Mac from Microsoft’s website to convert these files.

– Elsa Travisano

Microsoft Office 2008: Mac System Requirements
Mac computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4 (500 MHz or faster) processor; Mac OS X version 10.4.9 or later; 512 MB of RAM or more; 1.5 GB of available hard disk space; HFS+ hard disk format (also known as Mac OS Extended or HFS Plus); DVD drive or connection to a local area network (if installing over a network); 1024 x 768 or higher-resolution monitor.
Entourage and certain features require Internet access (fees may apply)
For Office 2008 for Mac and Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Editions: Connectivity to Microsoft Exchange Server 2000 or later is required for certain advanced functionality in Entourage 2008.

Copyright ©2008 by Elsa Travisano. This review appeared in the November 2008 issue of Newsbreak, the newsletter of MUG ONE - Macintosh User Group of Oneonta, NY.