Review – Word for Mac 2011: Both Thumbs Up, Part 1

Speaking as a professional writer, after spending my first week testing a review copy of the newly released  Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, I offer herewith my nominations for the top 10 features of Word for Mac 2011:

1. Easy install, and easy import of all my settings.           

2. After you boot it up once or twice, this sucker opens fast. And I mean fast. Click on its icon and you're in and writing. Where Word for Mac 2008 chugged along, often with the dreaded beachball of death spinning, this iteration races.       

3. Templates in the Document Gallery now display as hi-res thumbnail versions of themselves, rather than repeated versions of a bland generic icon. And the Gallery has become much more versatile; you can resize those thumbnails, get file info, even revise palettes and fonts therein on the fly, prior to opening a template.          

4. The Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) has added new templates to the Gallery, and revamped many of the previous templates. Furthermore, through the Gallery you now connect automatically to Microsoft's growing stash of thousands of additional templates online.  

5. The Ribbon, a horizontal mega-toolbar that provides quicker access to a wide range of functions previously tucked away and difficult to access, opens and collapses with a single mouse click. In fully expanded form, it does occupy a fair amount of screen real estate — a half-inch on my 15-inch MacBook Pro — but I think it's worth it, especially as it's easy enough to compress. You can shrink it a bit by checking the Hide Group Titles option in Ribbon Preferences. And you can make it go away completely in Preferences. (I assume the introduction of the Ribbon accounts for the ribbon-ish new icons for the W, X, P, and O of Office's four apps.)        

6. Conversely, if you find the Ribbon to your liking you can probably reclaim some space at the top of your screen by hiding your toolbar(s), most of whose functions come embedded in one or another tab on the Ribbon. I turned off the Formatting toolbar for just that reason.      

7. The keystroke combination for Find, Command-F, which I've used for more than a decade (so it's hardwired into the wetware) now jumps me to a search field with a Spotlight-like look, always open on the right-hand side of Office's Standard toolbar. If I want to do a search/replace, I click on the down arrow next to the magnifying-glass icon to select Replace (or I can use Shift-Command-H — the H, presumably, for Habit, old, break). That opens a left-hand sidebar listing all occurrences of my search term, in context, and offers me varying views thereof and multiple action options. Smart.

8. Full Screen View, a new feature accessed via View>Full Screen or by clicking on an icon in the lower left corner of the screen, is a significant alternative to Publishing Layout View (which remains available). Per its name, this option completely fills the screen with your document, centered against your choice of background — assorted wood grains, brushed aluminum, leather, same as you get in Publishing Layout View and Notebook View. Menubar, toolbars, and Ribbon vanish. Nothing at all to distract you from your text, in the writing view. Mousing along the top of the screen brings up an array of basic editing options on a toolbar that, Dock-like, vanishes when you mouse away from that area. (The reading view within this function shows you the document's pages as thmbnails along the left-hand edge of the screen, and disallows editing.) In effect, MacBU has built in what apps like WriteRoom and its imitators, such as Dark Room achieve: a simple, uncluttered writing space. Now you can work this way without leaving Word. Brilliant.

9. Change the name of a file while it's open and the name change appears instantly in the Standard toolbar.

10. Seamless interface with Word for Windows 2010. This means, in theory, that a document created in Word for Mac 2011 should appear identically in all ways when opened in Word for Windows 2010, and vice versa — formatting, footnotes, tracked changes, comments, the works. MacBU announced its desideratum as complete compatibility of all Office apps cross-platform, and they think they've come close. Since I regularly send out Word files to my clients and others, and receive Word files from various sources, I have to applaud this; periodically, editors complain that my files open scrambled, or with footnotes missing, or with italics and other formatting vanished or changed — even when I've saved and sent my documents as RTF files.

There's no guarantee, of course, that all recipients and senders will be working in Office for Windows 2010, and no way to ensure backward compatibility with earlier iterations. So until Windows users move en masse to the latest release, I can probably expect the occasional problem. Still, MacBU's commitment to this ideal bodes well for the future of cross-platform collaboration. Thus far, my experience indicates that they've come a long way toward achieving this goal.

So: Little things, big things, new things, improved things — much to appreciate, and few grounds for complaint.

(To be continued here.)

A.D. Coleman, Posted 2/10/2010

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