Review – Word for Mac 2011: Both Thumbs Up, Part 2

Word for Mac 2011, whose top 10 improvements I discussed in the first part of this review, offers a number of provocative features for the professional writer. I look forward to exploring the following four possibilities with this app:

1. I'm planning on developing a book-length project over the next year, with electronic and/or POD publication as its eventual form(s). The multiple layout and editing capacities formerly buried in the Elements Gallery, or available through the dreaded floating Palettes — headers, footers, page numbers, footnotes, citations bibliography — have become much more more easily accessible from the Document Elements tab on the Ribbon. That, in combination with access to assorted book templates from the Word Document Gallery, challenges me to see if I can produce this new book entirely within Word for Mac 2011, from conception to completed press-ready PDF. (Report to come.)

2. Images (including photos) can now undergo more sophisticated editing directly in Word. Not as nuanced as Photoshop, of course, but varied, rapid, and contextual. Most of what I produce professionally are text-only documents. But this feature encourages me to do more with images — and will surely come in handy when I start my book project. (Caution: the Track Changes function, unaccountably, does not take note of alterations in images embedded in documents.)

3. MacBU has restored VBA macros, whose creation and management you can accomplish from the Developer tab on the Ribbon. As a latecomer to Office for Mac, I never started using macros, but I certainly want to try them out as alternatives to Automator workflows and AppleScripts. (For a detailed account of my move to Word for Mac 2008, click here.)

4. Windows Live SkyDrive, which you can think of as something akin to Google Docs for users of the Office suite (cross-platform), gives you free 25gb online storage of files, plus the ability to share those with others and to work collaboratively in the cloud. My wife Anna and I run a cross-platform home office, so this may prove extremely valuable to us.

Here are two things from the previous iterations I immediately noticed missing:

1. The Work Menu in the menubar — to which you could add any document you had open, and from which you could open that document easily thereafter — has disappeared. I used this feature (which goes back to Office X for Mac) daily, to store quick links to front-burner projects and frequently accessed documents. The workaround: With that feature departed, I created a new Work in Progress folder, added aliases of my selected Word files to it, dragged it to the Dock, and had a viable substitute. Functional, but cumbersome. By contrast, though some users complained about the Work menu I found it both fast and easily managed. I could add a link to any open document with a simple mouseclick, and delete therefrom any document's link with Joe Kissell's "Remove from Work Menu" Applescript. I want this function back. Doesn't have to appear on the menubar; I'd take it on the Ribbon, or as a Favorites option in the Project Gallery.

2. The Speak Selection command for the Toolbar is also gone. A spokesperson for MacBU explains, "The team's goal is to tie in to the OS service functionality for text-to-speech, providing the same controls and capabilities that the OS provides to other applications." Makes sense. So, for the text-to-speech function, you have two options. First, in SysPrefs>Speech>Text to Speech, make sure the checkbox is on for "Speak selected text when the key is pressed" and set a keyboard shortcut. Then, in Word, select text and press the keyboard shortcut to hear the text as speech. (This will work system-wide.) As an alternative, create a Speak Text contextual menu item in Automator — if you haven't done so already. Then highlight text in any Word document and use Word>Services>Speak Text to hear it. (This Automator item will appear thereafter in the Services menu for all applications.) If you do both, you can set them for different voices, enabling you to get a hothothot dialogue going between, say, "Alex," the new kid in town, and the older, ultra-sophisticated "Vicki." Consider the possibilities. (Once Apple fixes a bug in iTunes 10, you'll also have the ability once again to use the Automator command Services>Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track, which will convert your selected text to an audio file and save it to iTunes.)

Here's what I'd like to see in the next iteration, hypothetically Office for Mac 2014:

1. With any unchanged document in any Office app, the Save option under File should appear grayed out.      

2. Add a Standard tab to the Ribbon, including thereon the Standard toolbar's commands — New from Template, Create New Word Document, Copy Formatting, etc. I could then close the Standard Toolbar, regain even more horizontal screen space, and use the Ribbon on a stand-alone basis.

3. Add to the Ribbon a customizable Favorites tab or two (or enable me to add as many such tabs as I want), on which I can put any functions I choose. I'd never again have any yearning for a toolbar.

4. Enable me to select one of the Paste menu options as a default in Preferences. I almost invariably use Paste Matching Destination Format, which I achieve now via an AppleScript.        

5. Include some lite single-user version of Microsoft's Information Rights Management technology in the consumer version of Office. (Presently it's available only in pricey corporate-end multi-user special editions.) This feature enables you to control recipient access to your documents — for example, you can create a read-only, unprintable version of an essay that the recipient can't edit or copy. In combination with the Watermark function, now easily available via the Ribbon, this would give me a much improved level of rights protection. A working writer like myself doesn't need all the bells and whistles of a full corporate edition, but this set of basic IRM functions strikes me as immediately useful to the SOHO creative professional/content provider.

6. Return of the Work menu.

Summing up: no radical makeover here, no new document formats (as with .docx in Word for Mac 2008), no crucial functions deleted, definitely an easy transition. Major improvements in app speed, template library, image-editing tools. Attention to details, as with the search/replace function. VBA macro function back. Two notable new features: the Ribbon, which will take some getting used to but seems extremely promising, and Full Screen View, a no-brainer and a pleasure. Balanced against the elimination of two prior toolbar functions I used, both of them quickly if not perfectly replaceable. Any way I look at it, as a working writer I come out way ahead on this one. Highly recommended. (I've experienced no instability or other problems with this release. But make sure you run Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 14.0.1 Update, which "fixes critical issues in Office 2011, including issues that might cause Office 2011 applications to stop responding or quit unexpectedly.")

A note on pricing.

The new Microsoft Office for Mac comes in several different editions:

Microsoft Office for Mac Academic 2011 includes Word for Mac, PowerPoint for Mac, Excel for Mac, Outlook for Mac and Messenger for Mac. Single install. Available at authorized academic stores and Microsoft, MSRP $99.

Microsoft Office for Mac Home and Student 2011 includes Word for Mac, PowerPoint for Mac, Excel for Mac, and Messenger for Mac. Single install, MSRP $119; three installs, MSRP $149.

Microsoft Office for Mac Home and Business 2011 includes Word for Mac, PowerPoint for Mac, Excel for Mac, Outlook for Mac, and Messenger for Mac. Single install, MSRP $199; Multi-Pack with two installs MSRP $249.

You'll find it discounted substantially at Amazon and elsewhere. Microsoft regularly offers bargains; during Black Friday and beyond, you could get it for 30 percent off. Keep your eyes peeled.

A.D. Coleman, Posted 11/27/2010

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© Copyright 2010 by A. D. Coleman. All rights reserved. By permission of the author and Image/World Syndication Services,