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Review: Office 2016 for Mac offers a new interface and better features

Preston Gralla | April 2, 2015
Mac users of Office who have felt left out in the cold by Microsoft (because the last version, Office 2011 for Mac, was released in October 2010) now have reason to be pleased: The preview of Office 2016 for Mac attempts to bring the suite out of the dark ages and into the modern world.

For me, this reorganized Ribbon has made Office more usable and far more pleasurable to use than the previous version. Also, I use the Windows version of Office, and because the Mac version now closely mirrors it, I found switching between Office on Windows and Office on the Mac to be largely seamless.

Standardized look and feel

In Office 2016, Microsoft is bringing a common look and feel to the suite across all platforms, which is why this Mac version looks much like the recently released Windows-based Office 2016 IT Pro and Developer Preview. However, there are still some differences between the Mac and Windows Office previews. As with the Windows 2016 preview, on the Mac the applications are color-coded: Blue for Word, green for Excel and red for PowerPoint. However, in the Windows version, the color is applied to the title bar as well as the bar across the bottom of the screen. Not in the Mac version: The color is only at the bottom.

Also missing in the Mac version is one of the more useful features of the Windows version: A box on the far right of the ribbon with the text, "Tell me what you want to do." Type in a task, and you get walked through doing it via options and menus. I found that exceptionally useful, and hope that Microsoft eventually introduces it in the final, shipping version of Office 2016 for the Mac.

Another difference: The Ribbon doesn't have the File tab. In the Windows version of Office, when you click the File tab, you're sent to what Microsoft calls Backstage, for doing things such as opening a file, viewing cloud-based services associated with your accounts and so on. That's missing in the Mac version.

You can do some of what Backstage offers in the Mac version — for example, you can open files by either clicking on a folder icon just above the Ribbon on the left-hand side of the screen or by pressing the Command-O keyboard combination. But that still won't offer other Backstage capabilities, such as controlling what changes people can make to a document. In the Mac version, you do that in the Review tab.

And I couldn't locate two other features of Backstage anywhere in the Mac version of Office: Checking a document to see whether it contains hidden personal information and managing previous versions of a file. It may be that they're hidden so deeply I couldn't find them. But it's a shortcoming of the Mac version of Office, even if it's only a minor one.

Integration with OneDrive — maybe

Microsoft has been integrating its cloud-based service OneDrive into both Windows and Office, and so, as you would expect, access to OneDrive is built right into this preview of Office 16 for the Mac. In the preview, you have a choice of opening or saving files either to the cloud-based OneDrive or on your Mac's hard disk.


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