Is Office 2011 overshadowed by richer tools on the Mac?

For the typical (or stereotypical) Mac user, Office 2011 is a great product but will have a tough time competing with rich, compelling alternatives. We use Macs for a reason, after all.

Office 2010 won me back as a power user after Office 2003 stunk, Office 2007 was good but not great, and both OpenOffice and Google Apps had become quite compelling. Office 2010 was just so powerful and feature-rich that it was hard to ignore. Today's launch of Office 2011 for the Mac brings most of this richness to an incredible growth platform, but somehow feels anticlimactic.

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy not to have to launch a virtual machine every time I want the latest and greatest Office features on my Mac. Office 2011 is a great product like its Windows big brother. I've been using a press copy for a couple of weeks now and have been cranking out the PowerPoints, spreadsheets, and documents. I know that Outlook and Messenger are important to some people and have been both well-reviewed and are welcome additions. I'm a Gmail guy and tend to avoid mail clients like the plague, so these are non-issues for me, but bringing Outlook to the Mac platform was obviously a great business choice for Microsoft and one more pathway through which Macs will work their way into the enterprise.

And yet...

Next: And yet...Do I even care? »

Even with the return of macro support and a revised interface that makes Office 2011 consistent with Office 2010, while still feeling more Mac than Windows...

Even with welcome updates that highlight just how much of an afterthought Office 2008 was...

Even with great templates and enhanced number-crunching abilities...

I just can't get excited about Office 2011.

I know that Office remains the tool of choice for documentation, presentations, desktop data management, and communication for many businesses. I get that and I know that it isn't going anywhere anytime soon in the corporate world. All the more power to the Mac for now being able to be seamlessly compatible with Office for Windows, both in file types and generally in user interface. And I don't even completely disagree with a Gartner analyst who raved about the software:

"This is the best Office ever, not just on the Mac," said Gartenberg. "It brings the Mac version to parity with the Windows version, but it still feels like Mac software, not a Windows port. Mac Office doesn't feel like you walked into your house in the dark and someone rearranged all the furniture."

The exclusion of OneNote, one of Office 2010's best bits of software, as well as Microsoft's failure to put Access on the Mac makes the "best Office version ever" assertion a bit dubious, although the interface and usability are quite good.The real question, though, aside from Mac users desperate to use their computers in corporate settings where Office remains the norm, is how many average Mac users will care that Office 2011 is just so incredibly dandy?

Mac users, after all, have a solid alternative on the cheap from Apple in their iWork software for most productivity and I'm actually finding myself more likely to produce everything from publication-ready documents to presentations in Adobe's CS5 (and now Acrobat X) given the really powerful tools with the Creative Suite that Office simply can't match. If what I need to do in terms of documentation or presentation can't be handled in Google Apps, then I'm going to go whole hog and produce something really rich. Add in Adobe's new ROME beta and there are more than enough alternatives for us stereotypical Mac creative types to just not be too fussed over Office 2011.

Aside from Adobe or Google, so much of what we (whether "we" means artsy Mac people or the world at large doesn't really matter here) do ends up in a content management system, blog, or online somewhere makes Office 2011, no matter how good it is, just a little bit less spectacular than one might expect.

Because Office 2008 was such a weak product, and because Macs have traditionally been the tools of choice for designers and (more recently) developers, Mac users have grown accustomed to using "Not Office," whatever that might be. Office 2011 is a boon for enterprise and business users, but won't be the runaway hit that Office 2010 was. There just isn't the need for it. We use Macs for a reason after all, and that reason usually isn't to type Word documents, no matter improved the interface.


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