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  • Office 2008 for the Mac: A Short Look at a Sprawling Suite

    January 3rd, 2008

    Four years is an awfully long time in the software business, although Microsoft is good at stretching its software development projects even longer, witness Windows Vista. But I didn’t think, when Office 2004 for the Mac came out, that we’d be waiting so long for its successor.

    Of course, a lot has happened to slow Microsoft down, and the key factor is Apple’s move to Intel processors. It meant that millions of lines of that code behemoth known as Office had to be ported to Apple’s own developer tools, known as Xcode. That isn’t like taking a word processing document created in, say, Nisus Writer Pro and saving in Word format, a process than can be done with reasonable fidelity to most essential formatting. When you switch development environments, it may take weeks, months, or even longer to fix the inconsistencies and massage your code so things continue to run properly.

    So I appreciate that Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit had a huge undertaking, and this may be a major reason why the software, due out January 15th, was postponed for several months from its original deadline. Talk if you will about Microsoft’s inefficiencies. It’s not as if they could afford to just trash more than 20 years of work and start over.

    So now we have it. With Office 2008 for the Mac about to be released, Microsoft arranged for a number of people in the media to get beta copies, and then the RTM version, which is the so-called Golden Master that was released to manufacturing in December. So I’ve been privileged to have an early look at the Mac version of the world’s most popular software suite.

    While this is not meant as an extensive review, it’s clear Microsoft has made great strides towards making the whole shebang prettier. From the basic icons to the various toolbars, palettes and so on and so forth, everything shows a lot of attention to detail.

    What’s also nice is to see Office run at acceptable speed on an Intel-based Mac at long last. However, for some reason, the launch times have slowed considerably on a PowerPC-based model. Take my PowerMac G5 Quad, with scads of memory. Word can take from 6 to 12 seconds to launch, and the latter behavior is frighteningly reminiscent of the infamous Word 6 debacle, where Microsoft tried to inflict an application with a Windows look upon us.

    This isn’t to say that Word 2008 isn’t Mac like. On the contrary, it seems that Microsoft has taken great pains to avoid the silly interface changes of Office 2007 for Windows. Yes, there is that dreaded ribbon, but you don’t have to invoke it, and it actually doesn’t look half bad.

    However, the proliferation of toolbars and the ribbon can combine to severely restrict your document writing window, particularly on a Mac with a smaller screen. But a little judicious handling of the extras can go a long way towards making your work environment far more pleasant.

    In saying that, Microsoft still persists with some long-term Office annoyances. For example, Word 2008 still doesn’t remember the page you had open when you last worked on a document. That’s something Apple’s Pages and loads of other applications support.

    Also, the monolithic database file persists for Entourage 2008, Microsoft’s combined email and contact manager. What this means is that, if something happens to that lone, sprawling file, you could lose some or all of your contacts and emails. Contrast that to Apple’s sensible approach, which is to put your messages in separate files.

    As new features go, Office 2008 may come up somewhat short. Sure, the publishing view of Word 2008 might, for example, ease the process of using the application for some desktop publishing chores. It may even be that Microsoft was influenced by Apple’s iWork ’08 in making some of its design decisions, and, speaking with an eye towards conspiracy theories, maybe Microsoft really delayed office to take a few hints from Apple.

    Regardless, the real goal of Office 2008 is to make the frequently-overlooked features more discoverable, so you can more easily harness their power. Microsoft claims that its user surveys showed many requests for features that Office for the Mac already had. So rather than add more undiscovered treasures, they made the ones they had easier to access.

    On the whole, Office 2008 for the Mac seems a worthy upgrade. I would only hope there will be a near-term revision to address the performance issues I’ve noticed. But I also wonder why I’ve yet to see any other preliminary review mention such matters, so maybe I’m alone in that observation. Or maybe I’m the only one who is concerned enough about Word 2008’s launch times to complain.



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    13 Responses to “Office 2008 for the Mac: A Short Look at a Sprawling Suite”

    1. Dana Sutton says:

      “Also, the monolithic database file persists for Entourage 2008, Microsoft’s combined email and contact manager. What this means is that, if something happens to that lone, sprawling file, you could lose some or all of your contacts and emails. Contrast that to Apple’s sensible approach, which is to put your messages in separate files.” Not to mention the fact that if you are using Time Machine or another archiving backup scheme, even the slightest change in that lone sprawling file means the whole thing has to be backed up all over again. That can chew up a lot of disk storage space in a hurry! Boy, dontcha wish that MS would just rerelease Word 5.1 as a Universal app? That’s the one occasion when Microsoft hit a real home run, I doubt they’ll ever get a piece of software so right again.

    2. shane blyth says:

      and no vb support so no thanks

    3. Paul Greatbatch says:

      It’s….just….too….expensive.

      NeoOffice and iWork are more than adequate for 95% of computer users. I can do an awful lot more for my computing experience in terms of productivity and efficiency with $300 than spending it on MS Office.

    4. Scott Crick says:

      It’s….just….too….expensive.

      NeoOffice and iWork are more than adequate for 95% of computer users. I can do an awful lot more for my computing experience in terms of productivity and efficiency with $300 than spending it on MS Office.

      I don’t think that the $129 for a three-user home license is too expensive, considering what you get for that $129. And, if you are buying volume licenses for the workplace, depending on the number you get, you can get some great per-seat prices. But, if you need the Exchange support, then the higher price does still apply for single licenses.

      Just don’t dismiss it right out of hand, just because it’s from Microsoft.

    5. Morgan Reed says:

      Exchange support will be a key feature, as will having full support of OOXML. Contrary to the opinions of OpenOffice fans, Open Office is not a replacement for the modern office suite with integrated calendaring, functional track changes, truly functional spell checking, better integration with blogging etc etc.

      I will be impressed with Open Office when it starts innovating rather than just imitating the work of Microsoft and Apple.

      And while I loved Word 5.1a, I understand that new products like Pages, Keynote, Numbers and Office ’08 add worthwhile features.

      What I am really looking forward to is better calendar and Address book sharing. I hate the fact that calendar items sent to me by PC users don’t seem to show up the same way twice in my iCal. And don’t get me started on how I can’t add a calendar item in iCal WITHOUT sending a notification to the person (or company) inviting me! If Outlook/Entourage is as improved as it looks, I’ll be ditching iCal and maybe even mail.app.

      The Macintosh BU for Microsoft has been good about developing mac-like products. I, for one, look forward to fewer hassles in dealing with a bi-platform world.

    6. Dave says:

      The cost of a new license and the trouble with upgrades soured me on MS Word several years ago. Until MS does an Apple and cuts $200 from its price per copy, I will not be upgrading 20+ systems. We are migrating to Pages for most of our work. At $79 a copy, it is reasonably priced.

    7. Steve says:

      My work requires that I live in Excel and be compatible with Windows users. Support for MS Exchange is a plus also. Most of my “word processing” can be handled by a rich text editor. It’s the performance of Excel (calc times are 50% longer in 2004 vs. v.X on the same computer) that kept me from upgrading the last time.

      The two items that will determine my upgrade will be Excel’s recalculation performance and program stability (the v.X versions of Excel and Word crash a lot, unlike their Windows Office counterparts).

    8. Thomas Hart says:

      I can’t say I really care about Office. What I want is for Adobe to wake up and offer FrameMaker for the Mac. I have files saved in FrameMaker format that I can no longer access unless I switch to a disk with Tiger on it, since Classic won’t run under Leopard. I also have Multiple Master fonts that are useless under OS X.

    9. Noibs says:

      You noted,

      “What’s also nice is to see Office run at acceptable speed on an Intel-based Mac at long last. However, for some reason, the launch times have slowed considerably on a PowerPC-based model. Take my PowerMac G5 Quad, with scads of memory. Word can take from 6 to 12 seconds to launch, and the latter behavior is frighteningly reminiscent of the infamous Word 6 debacle, where Microsoft tried to inflict an application with a Windows look upon us.”

      I’m not an expert by any means, but I think remember reading that any universal binary app doesn’t include any of the code that’s optimized for PPC G4/G5 processors. It’s plain vanilla G3 code for PPC Macs. If so, that would account for the perceived speed differences between the Intel and PPC versions.

      I also think I’ve read that PPC Leopard users don’t seem to experience the same perceived speed as Intel Leopard users, even when the hardware specs are reasonably close.

    10. I have both a 17-inch MacBook Pro (Intel) and a Power Mac G5 Quad. I do not perceive any speed hit with Leopard on either. As to not optimizing code for specific processors, that would be death to Photoshop, which depends on the G4 and G5 Velocity Engine for proper performance in running various filters. It ain’t so.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. BobInWi says:

      “I also have Multiple Master fonts that are useless under OS X”

      You can use MM fonts in OS X with Adobe’s InDesign by putting them in the InDesign fonts folder.

    12. I can’t say I really care about Office. What I want is for Adobe to wake up and offer FrameMaker for the Mac. I have files saved in FrameMaker format that I can no longer access unless I switch to a disk with Tiger on it, since Classic won’t run under Leopard.

      FrameMaker was one of those applications Adobe acquired and basically killed by neglect. I see its value in textbooks and other long documents with citations, etc., and I even spent some time on it.

      Today, Adobe would rather switch FrameMaker users over to InDesign, I should imagine. But it needs some additions to accommodate the FrameMaker user. Maybe they could build an add-on or plugin, with the appropriate capabilities and direct translation, but I’ll hold little hope for that.

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. Glenn Howes says:

      Could somebody tell me if the new Office supports PDF on the clipboard, as opposed to old fashioned QuickDraw PICTs. Getting Office to use PDF is a first step for every other application that interchanges vectored graphics via the clipboard.

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