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Microsoft Office X for Mac

No application is more important to the fate of Mac OS X than Microsoft Office. It doesn't matter how great an operating system is, it isn't useful to most people unless it can run mainstream business software. And whether you like it or not, Microsoft Office is about as mainstream as it gets. Fortunately for Apple, Office X ships with a well-conceived and well-implemented collection of Mac OS X applications that make the most of OS X's new Aqua interface and features. The Office X apps are fully Carbonized (that is, they've been ported to OS X from an older version of the Mac OS), so, unfortunately, they don't run in Mac OS 9. But if you've been waiting for top-notch Mac-specific business programs before switching to OS X, Office X is for you.
Written by John Rizzo, Contributor on
7.4/10

Microsoft Office X for Mac

Very good
Pros
  • Uses Aqua interface features and adheres to Mac OS X standards lets you customise key commands in Excel and select multiple, discontinuous text blocks in Word Entourage interface is easier to navigate.
Cons
  • Expensive upgrade applies anti-aliasing sporadically, causing ragged text doesn't synchronise directly with Palm OS devices Word and Excel don't read Microsoft Access files.
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

No application is more important to the fate of Mac OS X than Microsoft Office. It doesn't matter how great an operating system is, it isn't useful to most people unless it can run mainstream business software. And whether you like it or not, Microsoft Office is about as mainstream as it gets. Fortunately for Apple, Office X ships with a well-conceived and well-implemented collection of Mac OS X applications that make the most of OS X's new Aqua interface and features. The Office X apps are fully Carbonized (that is, they've been ported to OS X from an older version of the Mac OS), so, unfortunately, they don't run in Mac OS 9. But if you've been waiting for top-notch Mac-specific business programs before switching to OS X, Office X is for you.

In building Office X, Microsoft took care to stick to Apple's OS X user interface guidelines, which often help to make text, buttons, and menus easier to see and navigate. For instance, Open and Save dialogue boxes look and act like those in OS X. When you click them, they roll down from title bars as sheets (dialogue boxes attached to a window). Word's View buttons, which let you switch between Normal, Page Layout, and other views, are colourful and easy to distinguish from the background. In Excel, as soon as you start typing in a cell, it develops a drop shadow to make it stand out from inactive cells. And using OS X's transparency (a feature that lets you adjust the opacity of text and graphics), you can overlap 3D charts and graphics in Excel, PowerPoint and Word.

True to form, Microsoft has gone a bit overboard with some new Office X features. For example, when you close and open the Formatting palette, the palette slides in an animated, morphing way -- called 'genie' -- to and from the toolbar. There's no way to turn the genie effect off, and the process takes far longer from the toolbar than it does from the Dock (the strip at the bottom or sides of your Mac screen that replaces the Control Strip).

More bad news: Office X isn't consistent with anti-aliasing, an important OS X feature. Office X applies anti-aliasing to icons, buttons, Excel chart text, and all the text in Word. But some other text still appears jagged. Entourage, for example, doesn't anti-alias text in email messages, and while Excel smoothes out text in the row, column, and formula field headers, it leaves text within the cells rough around the edges. The effect is a bit jarring.

Fortunately, Office X's extensive online help is anti-aliased. As with Office 2001 for Mac, Office X doesn't ship with a printed instruction manual. But, unlike Office 2001, Office X now contains a helpful 164-page manual in the form of a PDF file called the Getting Started Book. Responsive online tech support is available at the Mactopia Web site.

Whereas Word 2001 made fantastic and necessary improvements from Word 98, Word X makes even greater improvements from 2001. Now, if you need to format and spell-check unconnected blocks of text, for example, you simply hold down the Command key and use your pointer to select all the appropriate sections in one fell swoop. This saves you the trouble of having to choose one text block, apply the format, and then repeat the process for every area you want to change. We're pretty impressed by Word's slick Contact toolbar as well. It lets you export contacts and addresses to Entourage (the email/scheduling application) directly from Word and lets you add addresses to Word documents. To put a name and an address in your Word file, just choose the name from the pop-up menu on the Contact toolbar, then click the Include Address button. Entourage doesn't even need to be open.

Microsoft has also greatly improved Excel. Office X lets you customise keyboard commands by using the Customize command in the Tools menu, a powerful feature that Word has offered for a long time. And Excel now imports FileMaker Pro database files. Oddly enough, Excel doesn't import Microsoft Access database files -- too bad, since there's still no Macintosh version of Access. Want to read Access files from a Windows user? Forget it.

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In addition, some of Office X's applications occasionally fail to communicate with each other. At times, as we edited an Excel chart in Word, the Word and Excel interfaces would pop to the foreground two or three times, so that first Word would show, then Excel, then Word, then Excel. We have no idea why this happened, and Microsoft has not yet identified a cause. We also found that if we had Word or Excel open, CD-ROMs would not eject when moved to the Trash until we selected the Finder. Microsoft says that this isn't a known issue and suspects the culprit is Mac OS X rather than Office.

Of all the Office X applications, PowerPoint has evolved the least since Office 2001. Its most notable new feature, the PowerPoint Package option, lets you wrap a presentation and all of its attendant files into one neat little package, then move it into a single folder. To do this, click File > Save As and select PowerPoint Package in the Format pop-up menu. Then name the folder you want the files to reside in. Despite the dearth of new features, PowerPoint is still the best presentation package for the Mac.

Entourage, Office's combination email/calendar program, wins our most-changed application award. Unfortunately, it remains the suite's weakest element. It sports an all-new interface with large buttons that make it easy to navigate among mail, address book, calendar and notes displays. The redesigned Calendar window now consists of three panes, one of which sports a Task List that shows the day's events. And the Custom Views window (also accessible from a button) lets you combine address book, calendar, and mail information in many different ways, so you get all the information you need on a single screen.

Unfortunately, Entourage still lacks some basic PIM features. You can't print paper calendar pages that'll fit in your appointment booklet or binder, for instance. Nor can you synchronise directly to handheld Palm devices -- both features that the free Palm Desktop supports. Microsoft says direct Palm syncing will be available later as an update.

Although Office X isn't perfect, we think it's one of Microsoft's better Mac offerings. If you've been champing at the bit to upgrade to Mac OS X, you'll be pleased to have this powerful package to use with your new operating system. Office X gives you something to do with Mac OS X and shows off Apple's new OS with style.

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