It's a few months later than expected, but Office for Mac 2008 has finally made its way to store shelves, bringing with it a solid number of updates over the previous iteration of the popular productivity suite, Office for Mac 2004. OS X-specific features such as Word's slick Publishing Layout View, Excel's handy Ledger Sheets, and Entourage's convenient My Day make this well-rounded office package well worth the wait.
Office for Mac Breakdown
We tested the highest-end Office for Mac 2008, the $499 Special Media Edition (a $149 Student and Home Edition, and a $399 standard Office for Mac edition are also available). The deluxe edition contains Microsoft Exchange support (messaging and collaboration software for corporate servers) and Microsoft's Expression Media software, which catalogs all of the photos and video on your hard drive. As with most media-organization software, you can tag and rate files as well as organize them by date. You can also add 30-second voiceovers (activated by clicking the microphone icon in Expression Media's toolbar), which gives a personal touch to the on-screen images--a very cool feature. Still, we'd rather stick with the more full-featured applications in Apple's iLife '08 suite. Also included is Messenger for Mac, which lets you chat it up with buddies--even those who use Yahoo Messenger. You can't drop in video backgrounds or communicate with AOL or GTalk users as you can with Apple's iChat, but if you're looking for basic messaging, it does the job.
Back to Basics--With Flair
At the heart of Office for Mac 2008 Special Media Edition is Word 2008 (for creating documents), Excel 2008 (for crafting spreadsheets), PowerPoint 2008 (for whipping up presentations), and Entourage 2008 (for managing e-mail and tasks). It's obvious from the moment that you first dive into the suite that it's designed to help users create highly attractive documents, which Microsoft states is a must-have feature since Mac users are accustomed to snazzy aesthetics (no offense to PC users, we presume).
Word Turned Desktop Publishing
New to Word is the Publishing Layout View, a desktop publishing tool that uses Document Elements to swiftly whip up cover pages, newsletters, invites, and similar projects; Excel sees the addition of Ledger Sheets, which takes the formula-creation out of spreadsheets by providing prefabricated cells that allow you to create budgets and invoices by simply entering your data; with PowerPoint, you can now export files to iPhoto and sync them to an iPod using iTunes for viewing slides on the go; Entourage features My Day, a widget-like application that can function independently of Entourage and displays upcoming events and to-do lists.
We found all of the new additions extremely useful, and more importantly, quite intuitive thanks to SmartArt (which adds professional-level templates and themes) and WordArt (which creates stylized fonts). We were able to put together an attractive newsletter with our own custom photos in less than 10 minutes.
Office for Mac: It All Works Together
Adding images to Word and PowerPoint from your Photo folder, Photo Booth, or iPhoto is infinitely simple (using drag-and-drop or traditional folder browsing), but you can do so much more than drop a picture into copy. We enjoyed performing numerous visual tweaks within Word and PowerPoint that seem more at home in a light photo editor than in an office suite, such as cropping, adding reflections, and applying wacky visual effects.
Microsoft Pushing for Upgrades
We liked the option to save files as PDFs but weren't too keen that Office for Mac 2008 saved files by default in the same Open XML format found in the Windows version of Microsoft Office 2007. It didn't pose a problem when we e-mailed documents to others that have either program, but we had to make sure to save work in the traditional .doc, .xml, and .ppt formats when sending files to folks that haven't upgraded. Don't worry, Mac users, your documents are fully compatible with Windows' Office 2007.
Office for Mac 2008 Special Media Edition is an excellent work suite geared toward power users who will delve into every feature and explore every nook and cranny of the robust package. Casual users who don't want to shell out $499 could make do with the $149 Student and Home Edition or the very capable (and more wallet-friendly) $79 iWork '08. We are left wondering, though, why Microsoft doesn't make such a fun and visually appealing suite for Windows users.
Apple MacBook Black (Santa Rosa)
Same smooth performance. Same sweet design. A few new additions.
Google Docs Presentations
If you plan on sharing your work, you can't do better than Google Docs Presentations.
Yahoo Widgets 4.5
This solid alternative to Google Gadgets, Vista's Sidebar, and Apple's Dashboard provides lots of options to spice up your desktop.