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Microsoft Releases Office 2011 Details at Macworld Expo

In contrast to the absence of most of the larger Mac software developers at this year's Macworld 2010 Conference and Expo, Microsoft had a booth on the show floor and briefed us regarding their plans for Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, due by the end of 2010.

Microsoft has a different software release model than several of its competitors that we Mac users pay attention to. At one extreme, Google often makes major changes to its Web and desktop applications with no advance notice, no choice, no fanfare, and minimal documentation. Google Buzz, a Twitter-like instant-messaging adjunct to Gmail, is a recent example of such a change (see "What's the Google Buzz? Tell Me What's A-Happening," 14 February 2010).

In the middle ground is Apple, which offers its users a choice about whether or not to install an update, and pre-announces major upgrades, such as new releases of Mac OS X, without all the details revealed. Other large changes, such new versions of iLife and Aperture, may appear without warning. Smaller updates arrive via Software Update with no notice and relatively little explanation.

At the far end is Microsoft, which sees its primary Office customers as huge corporations with tens of thousands of computers, not individual users. For the most part, those large customers want what Google and Apple do not provide: detailed information about what's coming and when it will arrive. This curiosity is warranted by a need to plan how to deploy the update, and train employees to use the new software.

Microsoft does sometimes update Office via an update mechanism similar to Apple's Software Update, but those updates are typically for compatibility, reliability, or security - not to add new features that a typical user would notice. When Microsoft prepares a new version of Office it generally provides a lot of advance notice and puts effort into documenting changes, especially changes that a larger organization would care about.

During our media briefing it didn't surprise me to learn that - as announced in August 2009 - Microsoft still plans to replace Entourage with Outlook in Office 2011 (covered in "Outlook for Mac Due with 2010 Office Release," 13 August 2009). Microsoft also still intends to restore Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) to the Office suite, after having removed it from Office 2008 because of difficulties in making it compatible with Intel-based Macs (see "Microsoft Fixes Office 2008 Bugs, Announces VBA Return," 19 May 2008). The new version will have the advantage of greater compatibility with the Windows version of VBA than was available in Office 2004, leading one snarky friend at the show to comment that we'll once again have to worry about VBA macro viruses from Windows users.

Microsoft continues to struggle with helping users find the many available features in Microsoft Word (hint: choose Tools > Customize and explore the Customize dialog). This time around, the Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) will try the Ribbon approach introduced in recent versions of Word for Windows.

Many Windows users find the Ribbon distracting. However, if left enabled, it appears below the toolbar region in a document window and works much like the Formatting palette in Word 2008, providing controls based on what you are doing or have selected in the document below. Your toolbars and the Ribbon automatically fit themselves into the top of the window, so you don't have to arrange them independently on your screen. Regrettably, I forgot to ask if you'll be able to move the toolbars or Ribbon to the side of the window, something that might be particularly welcome when working on a laptop.

Office 2011 will also have collaborative capabilities along the lines of Google Docs, which will allow more than one user to edit a document at the same time. While editing, each user sees which other users are active in the document. In Word, the system uses a "paragraph lock," so that only one user may edit a given paragraph. Microsoft said that the documents would sync every 30 seconds.

This feature will require using the .docx format introduced with Word 2008 for Mac, and either a SharePoint server or the SkyDrive service to host the shared document. The Internet-hosted SkyDrive service, comparable to Dropbox or the iDisk feature of MobileMe, provides 25 GB of storage space at no cost, enabling organizations without SharePoint to take advantage of collaborative editing. Although this collaboration option should work with Excel and PowerPoint, Microsoft didn't share any specifics.

Although Microsoft didn't discuss new changes in Excel or PowerPoint, the company representatives did talk about the new Outlook email and personal information management client. In a major change from Entourage, it will store email messages as individual files instead of in a single database file, which enables Time Machine to back up email messages without wasting space and Spotlight to index messages individually. The new Outlook will also import .pst files, making it possible to bring in email messages from the Windows version of Outlook.

Another new Office feature that may interest larger organizations is Information Rights Management (IRM), which makes it possible to specify what a recipient can do with an Office document or message. For instance, a recipient might not be allowed to copy or forward a message containing confidential business plans, or print a spreadsheet containing account numbers.

Microsoft did not provide pricing details, but said that Office 2011 will be available in time for the 2010 holiday shopping season.

With companies like Adobe, Quark, and FileMaker sitting out Macworld Expo, it was noteworthy that Microsoft supported the Mac community by showing up, setting up a booth (with a fun pictorial history of Office), and offering a look at what's to come well in advance of Office 2011's release.

And in an indication that Microsoft's MacBU doesn't take themselves too seriously, it had marketing people dress up in huge costumes representing the four Office application icons, an act deserving special recognition given that the mascots couldn't see well enough to walk through the crowded show without helpers leading them by the hand.


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Comments about Microsoft Releases Office 2011 Details at Macworld Expo
(Comments are closed.)

Ken Laskey  2010-02-15 17:36
One of the things I like in the Mac version of Office is the floating toolbox. I can place it where I want on a screen without it eating up space at the top of the window as happens with the Windows version. I hope Microsoft keeps the floating pallets and lets you ignore the ribbon if that's your preference.
I think it's ironic that Microsoft will be the company to lead the way with the new Outlook storing email messages individually and not a locked database.

I'm an author, and one group I belong to addresses many subjects of interest again and again. To keep current as to what has been said, when and by who on a given subject requires many folders and subfolders.

For years I have yearned to be able to export the contents of my group archive folder by subject and category preserving the author, date/time, and message in ASCI II and any attachments as separate fields for ultimate archive and access with a standard database such as Excel.

I guess no one's been able to decode Mail's software sufficiently to extract such would seem there should be a market for such a utility.
Scott Rose  2010-02-16 00:25
I'm surprised any Mac users are still using Office for Mac. I switched to iWork '09 last year, and it's the greatest decision i've ever made. So much faster, so much easier, so much more elegant... and full compatibility with Office when necessary for sending a file to a PC user.
John Lockwood  2010-02-16 01:42
What about support for right-to-left languages likes Hebrew and Arabic? At one point the Israeli government even banned the sales of Office over this, and Office 2008 for Mac still does not provide this feature.

Note: It is something the Mac has been capable of for many years and plenty of other programs manage to implement.
Khaled  2010-02-16 05:25
I'm with John Locke, what about Arabic/Hebrew?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 14:08
No idea, but we'll ask. It's conceivable that rewriting Office in Cocoa will provide some of this sort of thing for free (free as in programmer effort, not cost).
I wish they would FIX OFFICE 2008, rather than work on a supposed 'new' version. Tables do not edit properly, I am going to have to revert to Office 2004. Actually though, none of the MS Word versions seems to edit correctly. When you make certain changes, the document jumps around. You can't even SEE GRAPHICS in draft mode (you used to be able to, and somethings just DON'T EDIT AT ALL in page layout mode. Web 'mode' is a joke.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-18 10:46
Hey Brian,

Re graphics not showing... I have heard of this problem occurring and being inexplicable, but more likely you have the Image Placeholders option turned on in the View pane of Word's preferences.
Charlie  2010-02-16 06:21
I don't need any macro viruses and I certainly don't want to see that idiotic tool ribbon. I'll start switching to iWork this year. Goodbye, microsoft.
Bradley Ross  2010-02-18 20:38
Once you get used to the ribbon, you'll wonder why it was ever done differently. In Office for Windows, the ribbon can be set to auto-hide so that it only opens when you click on a tab. With the ribbon, everything has an obvious keyboard shortcut.

Once you're used to it (which is admittedly a hurdle), you'll probably love it.

The lack of a ribbon in Office for Mac has been the primary reason I refuse to use it. I remote desktop to a PC for almost all document editing. Perhaps this, along with Outlook, will get me to use my Mac laptop for business again, and not just for personal stuff.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-20 10:31
In fact, in my media briefing, Microsoft was also emphasizing that in Office 2011 they are trying to enhance compatibility between Word for Windows and Word for the Macintosh, by making the user experience more similar. The Ribbon was an example of that in terms of function. The look of the Ribbon that I saw was all Mac.
Didn't MSFT learn anything from Word 6? After all, it looked and behaved on theMac almost exactly like it did on thePC. Including the asinine install (MUST be at the root of the startup drive) the hideous UI, and the constant crashing.

When the MacBU is left to its own devices, Word has not totally sucked. When they've tied to make it "more windows-like" it's been a massive suck-fest.