Rating Mac Office 2008

The Mac version of Office has always been a more polished product, and the latest offering hasn’t changed that edge. PAUL WALLBANK

Paul Wallbank Tech Talk blog

By Paul Wallbank

There’s been a lot of changes in the Mac world over the last four years. So Microsoft had a lot of catching up to do with the new Office 2008 for Mac. The result is a well integrated, polished package that will appeal to Mac-equipped business users.

Installation of Office is a snap, coming in at 15 minutes and taking just over a gigabyte of hard drive space. On opening the look and feel is largely the same as Office 2004 with the addition of a new Element Gallery across the top of the screen containing frequently used features.

Word, Excel, Entourage and PowerPoint remain the core components of Office 2008. All of them have had features added and improvements made. Many of these are technical to take advantage of the more powerful Intel Macs; for example, the increased maximum size of Excel files.

Excel is the program that’s least changed. There have been some incremental improvements with features like the Formula Builder and enhanced templates. The critical change for some users is that Visual Basic has been dropped, which may affect macros and automated spreadsheet functions.

The biggest change to Word is the publisher layout function. This makes Word 2008 a much more functional desktop publishing tool and meets some of the challenges presented by the competing Apple Pages program in iWork.

Entourage looks almost unchanged from the previous version except with the added “My Day” application. Corporate users who connect to an Exchange server will find Entourage’s Exchange support has been improved, although there are still issues with connecting to hosted Exchange services.

Another nice Entourage function is being able to synch with Mac Mail, Address Book and iCal, which eliminates the need for third party applications to keep your phone and iPod synchronised with Entourage’s calendar or contact list.

PowerPoint has been the most threatened Office application, with Apple’s Keynote having the edge over PowerPoint in recent years. Many of Keynote’s features have made their way into PowerPoint with improved views, and there are more templates and transition effects.

Like Entourage, PowerPoint takes advantage of built-in Mac features like the Apple remote control and iPhoto. This integration throughout the entire suite is one of the big attractions of Office 2008.

One of the biggest technical changes in the new suite is Microsoft’s use of Open XML formats. Open XML replaces the older file systems and goes a long way towards eliminating compatibility issues between programs and with Windows users.

The downside of Open XML is older versions of Office will need the Office compatibility kits before they can read these documents. You can set the system to save using the old formats to get around this problem. While this loses some advanced 2008 features, this guarantees compatibility with other Office users who haven’t upgraded to the latest versions.

I’ve always marvelled at how the Mac version of Microsoft Office is a more polished and smoother running product than its Windows cousin. This continues with Office 2008 which integrates well into the built-in features of the Mac OS.

If you are using Intel-based Macs in your business, then Office 2008 is a must-have. Users of older Macs will have to weigh up whether the improved Entourage and PowerPoint are worth the $399 upgrade price. Overall Office 2008 is a good buy for the Mac-equipped office.


Paul Wallbank is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on technology issues. He founded national support organisation PC Rescue in 1995 and has spent over 14 years helping businesses get the most from their IT investment. His PC Rescue and IT Queries websites provide free advice to business computer users and his monthly newsletter has over 3000 subscribers.

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