Microsoft Office for Mac 2011: Clunky to cool

By Jake Widman, Computerworld |  Software, Microsoft Office, Office 2011

Once you're more-or-less comfortably settled in with Outlook, though, it handles its tasks competently. It can do some useful things that the Apple Mail-Address Book-iCal tandem can't. For example, in the e-mail module, you can concatenate search terms ("from:jetblue subject:itinerary") to locate messages by several criteria at once. Doing a similar search in Apple Mail requires setting up a Smart Mailbox, a clunky way to quickly find that one message you're looking for.

You can also choose to organize your messages in many different ways: by conversation, by account, by date received and so on. These choices can be combined to create custom arrangements -- for example, you can group messages by one criterion, then sort the groups and the items within them in other ways. For anyone who manages large volumes of e-mail, this flexibility should really come in handy.

But that flexibility comes at a cost -- speed. In my testing, Outlook was much slower than Apple Mail at displaying messages. The bulk of my e-mail comes through my IMAP Gmail account, and when I clicked on a message in Mail, it displayed immediately. When I clicked on the same message in Outlook, it took two or three seconds to appear, even without downloading the images.

That said, Outlook also offers some features that iCal and Address Book don't. For example, you can apply categories (and associated colors) to contacts in Outlook and then filter or search by category; in Address Book, you can create groups of contacts (which you can also do in Outlook, via "folders"), but you can't tag individual names.

In short, Outlook is not a particularly compelling option for the average Mac user. But if you've ever had reason to wish there were a version of Outlook for the Mac -- if you need that kind of compatibility with Outlook for Windows or you're currently using Entourage -- this somewhat flawed version is nevertheless a welcome development.


Word 2011 exemplifies the improvements in this version of the suite. Many of the new features are truly useful enhancements, not just gimcrackery.

For example, that floating palette that used to hold most of the formatting controls still has a Styles tab. But in Word 2011, that tab doesn't just display a WYSIWYG list of document's styles and let you create and apply them; it can also show you where a style has already been used. Click on a style name, and all occurrences of that style in the document are highlighted, making it easy to see if the various elements are properly tagged -- if that bold Helvetica subhead really has the style "subhead," for example, or is just formatted to look like it.

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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