20 Comments

Summary:

Word 2008 quickly fell out of favor with me. It consistently crashed on exit. It was horribly slow, and struggled to keep up with itself. If Word 2011 just felt faster and didn’t crash, I’d consider it money well spent. But Microsoft went beyond that.

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Word 2008 quickly fell out of favor with me. It consistently crashed on exit. It was horribly slow, and struggled to keep up with itself. If Word 2011 did nothing more than feel faster and crash less often, I’d consider it money well spent. But Microsoft went beyond that with the new version, just as it did with PowerPoint.

New Features

The Office suite has been criticized for being bloated, but I’m reminded of the old adage “You can only please some of the people some of time.” Or, in software terms, “One person’s bloat is another person’s critical feature.”

Take the return of Visual Basic macros. Reviewers are praising its return from the mountaintops, but I’ve never used the feature and didn’t miss it. However, the addition of an equation editor while I’m the midst of my first algebra class in 20 years has me positively giddy.

An academic annoyance that’s not Microsoft’s fault is that EndNote, a popular citation management program, isn’t yet compatible with Word 2011. While Word does have its own citation manager, I’d rather see EndNote support, as it can connect to my university’s library and grab all the relevant information.

The Ribbon

The ribbon interface from the Windows version also makes its appearance in Word 2011, although there was a sort-of-proto-version in Word 2008. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth has occurred since the announcement, but after finally getting my hands on, I find it helpful. You can easily make it go away with one click, but I don’t recommend it; spending some time figuring it out will pay dividends in increased productivity later.

My biggest complaint with the ribbon is, oddly, that not everything is on it. Word 2011 has a nice full screen view — similar to Scrivener’s — but it can only be accessed via the View menu. While ribbon-haters may cheer this, it can slow learning down as you stop to check whether something is on the ribbon or not.

Word 2011 ribbon.

Toolbox and Services Integration

Also not fully migrated to the ribbon is the old Toolbox. In Word 2008, the Toolbox was where you’d do a lot of heavy lifting. It’s still there, and it’s where you edit styles and insert citations. While you can right-click on a style in the ribbon to modify it, I found the Windows way of doing things a little more user-friendly.

Snow Leopard’s improved Services seemed to catch Word 2008 by surprise. Selected text, for instance, didn’t a trigger a text-related Service. Fortunately, that is much improved, as Word 2011 sees text as, well, text. Native support for accessing your iPhoto library is also included. Previously, this required a custom Service to work.

Word 2011 services.

General Usage

Ok, now that we’ve gotten what’s new, different, and the same out of the way, how is Word 2011 in actual usage? Pretty darn good. Word 2008 was so bad an experience for me, I’d switched to Pages. It was faster and more stable, and I don’t collaborate enough with Office users for issues to really arise.

However, Pages is also a consumer-level product. My day gig is a technical writer for a large corporation, and there’s no way I can do that work in Pages. It’s just not equipped for heavy lifting. Another big benefit for work is that Word 2011 can now “paste and match formatting” right from the menu bar. Gone is the need for several mouse clicks to do a simple task.

The only crash I’ve encountered in my admittedly light testing was a hang up with sharing a document. By now, Word 2008 would’ve thrown several fits. I tend to agree with Gartner Analyst Mike Gartenberg, who tweeted “Totally love the new Office for Mac. Possibly best version of Office. Ever.” Given speed advantages alone, Word 2011 is going to be one of my go-to text wranglers. My general plain-text and creative writing will still be done in Scrivener, but all my school and business work will happily go to Word 2011.

A More Versatile Word

I’ve been very, very impressed with this version. I threw a couple of worst-case documents at it — custom templates with imported Visio documents created on the PC, and a user guide I created with a boatload of graphics — and it didn’t hiccup. If, like me, you thought Word 2008 was a blight upon the land, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with Word 2011. If you’re an academic user, with the built-in citation and equation management, Word is clearly the leader here. If you’re using Word for work, then the time saved thanks to speed boosts and fewer crashes will go even further toward justifying the cost.

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  1. Hi Mark, thank you for your review (especially appreciated your notes about academic use with EndNote, citations, biblio, etc.). I purchased Office 2011 for Mac Business Edition from the Microsoft Store online, and downloaded it yesterday. When I made the purchase, the saleswoman I spoke with answered “yes” to my question if Office 2011 could read and write OpenDocument formatted documents. Now that I’m running Office 2011 Word, I see no way to import or export OpenDocument. I called Microsoft Office 2011 tech support (business license purchasers get 1 year of free tech support by the way, not 90 days) and the tech support person clearly didn’t have a clue what I was talking about when I mentioned OpenDocument, his response was simply “Microsoft has an XML format”. Yes, we know about Open XML. Is it possible for third parties to write plugins for Office 2011 on the Mac and if so could someone come along with an OpenDocument reader? I have been using OpenOffice on the Mac for the past five years, but for a “complete” OpenOffice experience Java is required to be installed on the machine running OpenOffice (and we all know that Java is in a state of tumult / uncertainty with the craziness of baron Ellison Oracle / IBM and Google and Apple’s Java deprecation announcement). Like you, I’m also not fond of Apple’s iWord Pages as it just doesn’t cut it for most professional / academic requisites. The problem with ingressing OpenDocument documents into Google Docs, for example, is that the import is lossy (I.e., it will not import custom styles / CSS style sheets) so Eric Schmidt can cackle until he’s red in the face about the Google Docs cloud but Google Docs, like Pages, is still “rinky dink” although they are making headway in collaborative editing which is cool but I’m looking forward to trying Microsoft’s cloud-based collaborative editing challenger to Google Docs with SkyDrive, etc. Any followup you can post about OpenDocument and Office 2011 would be immensely appreciated.

  2. I like the new features and improvements of Word 2011, but there is a problem for MacBook users. That fat ribbon eats up precious screen real estate. It takes away space that could be better used for the document itself.

    1. Yes, that’s the least we can say. I still cannot understand why adding a horizontal toolbar when 99% screens are landscape-oriented. This really escapes me…

    2. Huh, I did the eval on a 13″ MBP and didn’t have a problem.

  3. I appreciate the review, however that ribbon was what drove me to OpenOffice/NeoOffice in the first place.

    I do have MS Office 2008 (Mac) for compatibility checks, but the real estate of the ribbon (mentioned by Phil T) was a big part of me *not* minding 2008 – it didn’t have it!

    Like you said, it can be turned off – does that turn off the additional functionality, or can that be accessed through the alternate interface?

    1. Not that I can see, although hiding the ribbon also hides the formatting areas, so changing fonts requires you to go to to the command-D Fonts dialog box.

  4. I agree with you that Word 08 sucked on the MAC. It’s no surprise that many users like myself switched to using Pages in the mean time. I’m a recent MacBook Pro owner and I didn’t want to dish out the $130 for an old version of Word, instead I bought the iWork suite for $50 with my student discount. It’s doing the job for me as a university student, but I would like to upgrade to Word 11. I was comfortable using the Office suite on PC, but that also had its mishaps and crashes, good thing there auto save.

    It was great to read your input on the new release of Word, you got me convinced. I’ve heard from other MAC users that Word 08 as a disaster and only caused problems which is partly why I decided to wait for a new release of Word. Now I just have to find two people to split the cost with and take advantage of the 3 installs.

  5. Charles McPhate Thursday, October 28, 2010

    I, too, am thrilled with Office ’11. My work requires me to exchange a lot of Word and Excel docs with clients, but Office ’08 just couldn’t handle it. It was painfully slow and not always completely compatible with docs created in Windows versions. I had switched to using Office in Parallels – the only reason I ever used Parallels. I tried OpenOffice and NeoOffice, but they were too slow and buggy to be practical, and docs I created in those apps looked amateurish when opened in Office.

    I was pleasantly surprised after installing Office ’11. It’s zippy, and I haven’t had a single problem with any of the docs clients have sent.

    For better or for worse, Office is the standard for business users. And us Mac users can finally interact with our clients efficiently, without jumping through hoops.

  6. I hate the fact that Word 2011’s default template uses Calibri for headings and Cambria for body. I want it the way Office 2007 has it. Haven’t played with Office 2010, did they also change to this standard?

    1. I purchased office 2011 mac yesterday in the hope that the problem with the equations been converted to pictures in word had been solved. 150 euro later I find that it has not. I just cannot believe that the developers can get this so wrong. Total waste of money as well as the days work that has been lost now into the bargain.

  7. Is this real or deja vu? I left Office for Neo Office primarily of the incompetence and poorly executed code in their programs. Still?

    I customize the standard toolbar. Turn off the Ribbon as its 50% stuff I never use. I have now opened, reopened, quit, start Word about 20 times over a period of days. The toolbar has yet to be the same. Certainly not what I customized. This is Word .and Excel 95.

    Will this company ever get it right or simply continue its free fall into oblivion?

  8. I have been so angry with Word 2008 that I switched to Pages…. and used that to write my last book. Worked fine… the inciting incident was hour long spinning of MS wheel to open Word…. probably checking if I was eligable to open…. giving messages about sorting out identities…. I have screenshots showing one, two, two and a half hours gone to this check… before it finally resolves. Re-installing, getting rid of earlier versions helped nothing. (I have been a fan of MS Word since I left WordPerfect in the eighties). This situation has been the curse on two of my machines…. in vital moments when there has been no way around Word, I have not deared to close the program down…. but let it stay open with the mac´s engine running… I must say that I am not at all confident … the turnoff with Word 2008 has been very strong…

  9. Well, I found out that Word 2011 is completely USELESS for academic writing as there are serious bugs in the citation function:
    http://www.officeformac.com/ms/ProductForums/Word/11810

    Basically you are not able to edit citation fields anymore. Therefore you can not differentiate between direct, indirect citations etc. You can not use a prefix or suffix or whatever was needed up to now.

    Second (and this could be overcome) one can not put a citation in a footnote. If you doubleclick the author in the citation manager the citation is placed as text. Workaround: You can copy paste a citation from the body text into the footnote. Then, surprisingly, it works as a proper citation field.

    I think it’s very POOR how Microsoft treats their academic audience and I am wondering of switching to Open Office which – in this regard – is the better tool.

  10. Word 2011 crashes. Ribbon sucks (having formatting icons x2 on screen is a user experience fail). Cannot interoperate between Pages and Google docs successfully. Something as mundane but essential as word processing should be light years ahead in 2010.

  11. Wait till it crashes and you find out the autoave didn’t work. Then write a glowing review. MS buggy crap.

  12. Possibly the worst thing since Windows ME!
    Well it has been about a week now that I’ve purchased Office 2011 for mac. Well, I gave a lot of money as I am starting my PhD thesis and I wanted something designed for heave duty stuff. You know what? Even Office 2008 could do better than that! For instance, it has numerous font problem, it also does this other weird thing where you start writing and it repeats what you’re writing at the end of the sentence completely messing up the layout. And the best thing of all; Having completed last night my introduction draft I went to sleep only to see that today the whole document is only ones and twos (maybe threes and fours as well). YES! Believe it or not Microsoft did it again! It managed to make a completely crappy software comparable to Windows ME.
    I also completely agree with nani. The references are useless! It has fewer kinds than ’08 (as it doesn’t have for instance encyclopedia citations) and it has a shitty format when put as a comment.
    Anyway my advice not to buy it! Use pages instead for light stuff and if you want something really heavy get VM and install the windows version!

    1. I haven’t had any of those problems. But I might know what Word 2011 is trying to do. It is trying to stop you before you waste too much time! You see, if you are starting out on your thesis by writing the introductory chapter, it knows you are doing it all wrong. The introduction is the last thing you write. Trust me, you have no idea what it is going to say. Go write methodology and lit review first.

    2. I’m facing some font related problems as well.

      “Kozuka Gothic Pro” is mysteriously hiding itself: I can choose the font from the list, but it’s not always showing in the document?! On the same computer the SAME document is working fine with Word 2008.

      Any ideas?

    3. Hi Dimitris!Greek too, here!;)Good luck with your PhD. I’m writing mine too, and I have the exact same problem “it also does this other weird thing where you start writing and it repeats what you’re writing at the end of the sentence completely messing up the layout”. Have you found any solution???Since you ‘ve been using it longer…

  13. Yeah yeah, Amalek now you should feel proud of yourself! You’ve probably wrote the comment and thought “oh my god i’m so clever”
    Well here’s a spoiler “You’re not!”

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