Microsoft's newly released Office for Mac 2011 takes huge steps toward bringing the same experience to Office users on both Windows and Mac -- but they're the steps that begin a journey, not bring it to an end. The Mac suite remains well behind its latest Windows counterpart, Office 2010, but it's now on a par with Office 2007, and that by itself is a significant step forward from Office for Mac 2008.
Office for Mac 2011 ($279.95 direct from Microsoft) is still not nearly as full-featured as Office 2010 for Windows. There's no database application, no dedicated page-layout application (though Word 2011 is quite good at page layout for shorter documents), and no OneNote -- the most serious shortcoming, in my opinion. Despite this, Office 2011 goes a long way toward integrating the Mac and Windows Office worlds into a seamless whole.
[ Also on InfoWorld: A bevy of iPhone-inspired features will find their way into Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. See "The new Mac OS X: What Apple has in store for 2011." | Stay abreast of key Apple technologies in our Technology: Apple newsletter. ]
The new Mac suite -- comprising Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook 2011 -- does inherit a number of Office 2010's top features, including simultaneous document editing or co-authoring, built-in graphics tools, PowerPoint slideshow broadcasting, Outlook's conversation view, and interoperability with Office Web Apps. Word 2011 has improved document layout tools, while Excel 2011 has been brought up to date with pivot tables, conditional formatting, sparklines, and support for Visual Basic macros. Still, some business-grade features in Office 2010 -- such as Business Contact Manager and PowerPivot for Excel -- have yet to make it to the Mac.
The changes getting the most attention are the addition of the ribbon interface, which brings the Office for Mac GUI in line with the interface that Windows users have been working with since Office 2007, and the replacement of Entourage with Outlook. Each of these is significant, but the most significant change in the long run may be the addition of the Microsoft Document Connection -- a window to SharePoint and Windows Live SkyDrive shares -- to the Mac OS X Dock.
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