While we have nothing but love in our hearts for iWork, we realise that some organisations are always going to want everyone to be working on Office. This makes sense – it sidesteps any compatibility issues and no one has to remember to export to the right file type before sending something to a colleague – but it’s also sent a ripple of fear through many an office. Will Outlook work on a Mac? Are you about to lose all your spreadsheets? Are the Mac versions of these things actually any good? With Office for Mac 2016 the answer, thankfully, is yes.
Getting the ‘Mac feel’ right
The latest version of Office for Mac is notable for having been redesigned to be more in line with Office for iPad and its Windows counterpart, meaning navigating apps and using the Ribbon menu is a virtually identical experience on all platforms – perfect if you’re moving from PC to Mac and need a shallow learning curve. Word and PowerPoint also support Mac and Windows keyboard shortcuts for common actions like saving, so you can rely on muscle memory for those tasks.
However, this iteration of Office also supports gesture controls like pinch to zoom, meaning it feels much more natural to navigate through apps using your Mac’s trackpad. The unpopular Toolkit floating pane has been replaced by a fixed menu that feels much more in line with the UI of existing Apple applications and, most importantly as far as we’re concerned, replaces Word for Mac’s clunky Inspector with an intuitive Style pane. There’s also support for Retina resolution displays, so you won’t have to put up with icons seeming impossibly tiny.
Version parity: do you still have all your favourite PC tools?
So do the Mac versions of Office apps have all the functionality of their PC counterparts? The honest answer is “almost”. Outlook in particular has come on in leaps and bounds in recent updates, and now includes flourishes such as being able to propose a new time when declining a meeting, smarter email threading and the ability to add different signatures to different kinds of new message (this was previously only possible when replying to an existing thread). It still doesn’t have Outlook for PC’s Ignore feature for muting threads you’d rather be copied out of, but we find throwing things across the office once we lose patience with an unrepentant cc’er works just as well.
Perhaps most interesting is Excel for Mac, which assumes that a casual spreadsheetist will be happy in Apple’s more basic Numbers application, so has focused on providing high-end tools for power users. These include: support for Analysis ToolPak and Solver add-ons; an improved formula builder and equation editor (online consensus is that it’s actually easier to find the components you’re looking for in Excel for Mac than it is Numbers); and support for features that were missing from the 2011 version, like PivotTable Slicers.
There’s also a handy feature that recommends the best kind of chart or PivotTable to display the data you’re currently working on, and autocomplete has gotten far cleverer.
PowerPoint is also greatly improved, having finally worked out how to handle media smoothly. It offers a 3D View that shows you an exploded diagram of each slide’s elements, so you can reorder them more easily. It’s also got 23 new (and less crushingly clinical) design templates.
By far everyone’s favourite feature, though, is the addition of a great honking ‘Switch Displays button’ that means you’re not going to accidentally show everyone your desktop while presenting.
One downside, especially given how good the Office for iPad app suite is, is that iCloud and Handoff aren’t supported. However, these are replaced by Microsoft’s own OneDrive cloud storage service, which supports online collaboration between users too, so cross-platform collaborators won’t miss out entirely.
Threaded comments in Word and PowerPoint mean that you can easily track who made which changes, and if you save a document to OneDrive, you can invite other Mac, PC or iOS users to edit, annotate and contribute. Changes are only displayed once everyone contributing has saved the document, so you don’t have to watch someone type sentences, change their minds and try again in realtime. However, be sure to turn on Track Changes, as otherwise none of the changes will be associated with a particular user’s name.
This new addition to the Office for Mac suite is a highly regarded standalone note-taking app, which we’ve raved about previously. The key thing to note in Office for Mac 2016 is that it has inherited the record-audio-while-you-take-notes feature that used to reside in Word. Fortunately, it’s made the move intact, and you can still click on text to hear what you were recording when you typed it, which is excellent if you want to settle an argument about your meeting notes.