Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac review: Ribbon revamp brings UI into line

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Free upgrade for Office 265 subscribers
  • Redesigned ribbon interface across Word, Excel and PowerPoint
  • Improved mail merge in Word
  • New statistical tools in Excel
  • View multiple calendars in Outlook

Cons

  • Requires Mac OS X Yosemite (10.10)
  • Currently only available with Office 365 subscription

It's been five years since Microsoft released Office 2011 for the Mac, so the absence of any major, headline-grabbing new features could be seen as something of a disappointment. However, Office 2016 for Mac does make sense when seen as part of Microsoft's attempt to provide a 'unified' look and feel that allows Office users to move easily across platforms and devices.

At the moment, Office 2016 for Mac is available as a free upgrade for users who have an existing subscription to Office 365. Businesses with volume licensing agreements with Microsoft can upgrade for free as well, although they have to wait until August. There will also be a conventional boxed version of the suite released in September. Microsoft was unable to confirm UK pricing for that version ahead of its release, although it's likely to be similar to the current £219.99 (inc. VAT) for the Home and Business edition of Office 2011 for Mac.

Office 2016 will only run on the current Yosemite release of OS X (10.10), which might be an issue for business users who are running previous versions. Fortunately, as we reported recently, Apple does finally seem to have squashed the wi-fi bugs that have affected Yosemite since its introduction last June, so that's no longer a barrier to adoption.

Evolution, not revolution

Microsoft released a preview version of Office 2016 for Mac a few months ago, and there was a slight sense of anti-climax when it became apparent that some aspects of the 'new' suite weren't new at all. The updated Outlook for Mac includes some useful options, such as the ability to view multiple calendars side-by side, but has actually been available to Office 365 subscribers since October 2014. The inclusion of OneNote in Office 2016 isn't a major addition either, as the Mac version of OneNote has been available as a free download on the Mac App Store for some time.

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The updated Outlook allows you to view multiple calendars side-by-side. Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

A number of other features that Microsoft has chosen to highlight are merely refinements, rather than being entirely new. Microsoft states that Office 2016 for Mac is 'cloud-connected'. In fact, the previous Office 2011 already allowed you to save documents online to OneDrive and SharePoint, and this new version simply adds OneDrive For Business as an additional option. The ability to collaborate on documents isn't new either, although the 2016 editions of Word and PowerPoint do add threaded comments that allow users to discuss changes to the documents they're working on.

Ribbon 2.0

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The ribbon interface in Word 2016 (top) has been streamlined, relocating many tools inside the new Design tab. Images: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

The key change in Office 2016 for Mac turns out to be a sweeping redesign of the oft-maligned 'ribbon' interface. This is intended to make the Mac versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint look and feel more like their Windows counterparts, as well as the recently introduced versions of Office mobile devices running iOS and Android.

Of course, making the Mac version of Office look and feel more like the Windows version isn't necessarily going to endear Office 2016 to Mac users who didn't like the introduction of the ribbon in the first place. Fortunately, though, this redesign does also help to streamline the apps and make them feel tidier and better organized.

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The Design tab in Word now includes a wide range of tools for formatting text and graphics. Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

This is most evident in Word, where a wholesale reorganization sees handfuls of graphics and formatting tools removed from the ribbon's cluttered Home tab and relocated within the new Design tab. Business users will also appreciate the new Mailings tab, which helps you to quickly import data for mail merge tasks.

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The Insert tab is shared by Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and allows you to graphs, charts and other elements to your documents. Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

There's also a new Insert tab, which is now a common feature shared across Word, Excel and PowerPoint. As the name suggests, the tools in this tab allow you to insert additional elements into your documents, ranging from simple graphs and charts to sparklines in Excel, or complex equations in Word. There are several other new features, such as the Analysis ToolPak in Excel, plus a number of new themes and animation effects in PowerPoint, but it's this new look and feel for the ribbon that is the cornerstone of Office 2016 for Mac.

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PowerPoint includes new themes and animations, along with the redesigned ribbon. Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

Conclusion

A new ribbon isn't going to have Mac users in businesses badgering their IT managers to upgrade them to Office 2016. However, this makeover for the ribbon isn't simply a cosmetic change. The more streamlined interface does make Word, Excel and PowerPoint feel less cluttered and easier to work with. And, by providing a look and feel that's consistent with other versions of Office, Microsoft is helping to ensure that users can remain productive by getting straight down to work regardless of where they are and what type of device or operating system they're currently using.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Apple, Microsoft, Reviews

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