Software Review:
Microsoft Office Mac: Mac v. X

Microsoft Office: Mac v. X
$499, $299 upgrade from Office 98 or 2001 or any component (Word, Excel, PowerPoint 98, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Word + Entourage Special Edition 2001)

The arrival of Microsoft Office : Mac v. X has given scores of Mac users the green light to upgrade to Mac OS X. Microsoft Office and its components – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage – are key productivity application for millions of Mac users. A good (and prompt!) OS X version of Office was crucial for OS X’s early success. Fortunately, Microsoft’s Macintosh team rose to the challenge to give us a new Office that implements the new operating system beautifully and efficiently. Completely rewritten from the ground up, Office X is speedy, incorporates a sprinkling of new features and overall is a pleasure to use.

Users of Office 2001 will recognize the general organization of Office X. Launching Word, Excel or PowerPoint brings up the Project Gallery, a feature that can be disabled if you prefer to start an application with a blank document. The Project Gallery includes templates for creating common business and home documents like letterheads and resumes, as well as Wizards for functions like making lists in Excel. You can save your own templates in the Project Gallery for easy retrieval.

Components ofOffice X are even more tightly integrated than in Office 2001. The Formatting Palette is now consistent across all applications except Entourage. It’s context-sensitive and incorporates commands for font attributes, borders and document formatting that were previously buried in menus and toolbars. Dialog boxes and panels are now displayed as Sheets, which apply only to a particular document and can be temporarily ignored. This means that you can ignore a Save dialog, for example, rather than having it override all other actions until it is attended to.

Entourage, which is available for OS X only as part of Office X, incorporates the greatest number of improvements. Entourage combines email and personal information management (PIM) functions and works as the scheduler and notifier for the Office suite. Buttons at the top left of the Entourage screen now make it easier to navigate between mail, address book, calendar, notes, tasks and custom views, and the title bars are more sensibly laid out. The tasks list can now be displayed in the same view as the calendar, making it possible to track those items on your to-do list that aren’t tied to a particular date - like cleaning out the garage. The calendar still requires more steps to enter data than Palm Desktop, but it has a cleaner design, utilizes color coding and handles multi-day events more efficiently. Synching with Palm handhelds, which will depend on updated OS X software from Palm, Inc., is not yet available.

The most notable improvement to Word is the ability to select multiple words or blocks of text by command-clicking. These non-contiguous text selections can then be formatted, spell-checked or searched in one fell swoop. Word also adds a Clear Formatting tool, which reverts a selection to default settings and restores hyperlinks, and a Data Merge Manager to streamline creating mailings for multiple recipients.
Improvements to Excel and PowerPoint are more minor. Excel adds an AutoRecover feature and the ability to customize keyboard shortcuts. PowerPoint can now collect linked files into a PowerPoint Package so they can be transferred more easily to a CD-ROM or another computer, and offers improved support for saving presentations as QuickTime. movies, including preserving transitions, animations and hyperlinks. QuickTime movies created by PowerPoint can be viewed using the free QuickTime Player. Prior to PowerPoint 2001, presentations required a specialized viewing application.

Many keyboard shortcuts have been changed to maintain compliance with Apple’s Aqua interface. For example, command-Y is the shortcut for viewing only unread messages in Entourage 2001. In OS X one uses command-Y to redo the last action, so the shortcut for viewing unread mail has been changed command-shift-O. This is a minor annoyance, especially to users working between OS 9 and OS X versions of Office.

Be aware that this version of Office uses a serial number verification system that checks all computers on a local area network and refuses to launch if another application with the same serial number is running. This can trip up unsuspecting users who have Office installed on both a desktop and a laptop computer, a practice permitted under the software license.

A 30 day trial version of Office: Mac v. X is available as a massive free download (122 MB) or a CD for $5 shipping on the Microsoft website. The March 2002 MacAddict Magazine’s software disc also includes the trial software.

– Elsa Travisano
Microsoft Office: Mac v. X
System Requirements: PowerMac G3 or G4, iMac, PowerBook G3 or G4, or iBook, Mac OS X version 10.1 or later, 128 MB of RAM, 160 MB of available hard-disk space for drag-and-drop install, 75 MB for a minimum custom install, CD-ROM drive, monitor supporting thousands of colors with 640x480 or higher resolution.

Copyright ©2002 by Elsa Travisano. This article originally appeared in the March 2002 issue of Newsbreak, the newsletter of MUG ONE - Macintosh User Group of Oneonta, NY.