November 03, 2010, 1:11 PM — When I reviewed Microsoft Office for Mac 2008, I said the then-new version of the suite was "kind of like getting a new Chevy." In other words, it was a solid upgrade, but nothing to really get excited about.
Not this time. I could call Office for Mac 2011 a hybrid because it's got a bunch of online options to complement its core desktop functions. However, this version also feels -- dare I say it -- sleek, with new features that actually make you think, "That's pretty cool." That's right: I really did just call Microsoft Office for Mac "pretty cool."
Office for Mac 2011 comes in two versions. The Home & Student Edition ($150) includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint, while the Home & Business Edition ($280) adds Outlook, replacing the Entourage client that had been in previous Mac Office editions. Both versions also include Microsoft Document Connection for managing files on Microsoft's cloud service, SkyDrive, and Remote Desktop Connection for working with files remotely.
Start with the fact that Office for Mac 2011 is much snappier than its predecessor. As a writer, I've found myself turning more often to alternative word processors in the past couple of years, such as Apple's Pages, because I've been so annoyed at having to wait for Word to do something -- anything. But in testing, the new version proves to be about twice as fast at starting up and loading documents than the 2008 edition. (I tested using a MacBook with a 2.16-GHz Core 2 Duo chip and 3GB of RAM.)
Over several runs, for each component -- Word, Excel and PowerPoint -- it took only three or four seconds (with the Document Gallery turned off) to go from clicking the icon in the Dock to presenting a new blank document. The Office 2008 apps, in contrast, take six or seven seconds each to start up.
Similarly, Word 2011 loaded a 5,700-word document in three seconds compared to six for Word 2008. That may not sound like much, but in a world where studies show that people won't wait more than four seconds for a Web page to load, the difference is significant.
A new Ribbon