Microsoft Office for Mac 2016 review: At last, a modern Office for OS X
Everyone has it. Food that languishes at the back of the cupboard for years because you can’t be bothered to throw it out. A jar of some gooseberry jam from 2008; the redcurrant jelly you bought for Christmas dinner six years ago; or even a can of beans from 2010. Office for Mac had been feeling past its sell-by date, too: last updated in 2011, it’s been steadily going mouldy ever since.
Until now, that is. Office for Mac 2016 is finally available to the public, arriving a full three years after the last update on the PC, and five years after the last Mac-based release.
Even then, only subscribers to Office 365 can get access to this latest version. If you prefer a perpetual licence to a yearly or monthly charge, you’re going to have to wait until September before you can buy the suite outright. Microsoft hasn’t revealed how much this will cost either.
It’s an embarrassing state of affairs, to say the least, and for many the update will arrive too late. By now, many Mac devotees – at least those with a choice in the matter – will have abandoned Microsoft’s ageing office suite in favour of modern, cheaper alternatives. Now iWork is free and Google Docs so much more powerful than it used to be, there are plenty of capable alternatives.
What’s new in Office for Mac 2016?
Essentially, Office 2016 brings the Mac version up to the same level as the Windows release, both in terms of the user interface and features. So, you’re getting a redesigned ribbon toolbar that looks far cleaner and which makes it a little easier to find what you’re looking for.
I’ve never been a big fan of the ribbon in the Windows version. You still have to do far too much hunting around for features you know exist but can’t locate – and on the Mac, there’s still the issue that it looks a little out of place. But I’m certain that I’ll get used to it over time; there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s a huge improvement on the old version.
Critically, Microsoft’s office suite no longer looks like it fell out of the 1980s, with full support for Retina screens and a look that’s consistent across all the key applications. With Office 2016, OS X users finally have a modern office suite that looks the part.
More specifically, the apps have a brighter look overall than before. If you choose the “colorful” option during setup, the area above the ribbon toolbar in each app will match each application’s signature colour: green for Excel, dark blue for Word, red for PowerPoint, light blue for Outlook and purple for OneNote.
But despite that, there’s a pleasing sense of minimalism at work here. The ribbon, as well as being reorganised, takes up less space than before, and the menus have a flatter, more modern appearance. And now that the icons are less packed together and have been redesigned, everything looks less cluttered than before.
Multitouch and OneDrive support
Office 2016 for Mac is about more than just looks, however. There’s improved support for multitouch touchpad gestures, for instance: you can now pinch to zoom in to documents, presentations and spreadsheets – to focus in on a detail or to get an overview – and scrolling and zooming animations are smoother as well.
On that front, at least, Office for 2016 is superior to the Windows version. In fact, Windows as a whole has never quite got to grips with seamless, responsive touchpad gestures in the way that OS X has.
And there are some other, small differences between Office on the Mac that contribute to a superior overall experience to the Windows version. The main one is that the confusingly muddled File menu, dubbed Backstage by Microsoft – in which the entire application window is hijacked by the Save, Open, Print preview and Settings menus – is not in evidence here.
For me, that’s a good thing. Backstage has always felt jarring, in the way it rides roughshod over OS paradigms established following years of careful development. Why should Office have a completely different way of opening and saving files to every other application on the platform? It may be the future, but it isn’t one that I’m particularly fond of.
Here, thankfully, files are opened and saved using a much simpler dialog box. In my opinion it feels much less befuddling, and it manages to integrate Microsoft’s cloud storage system, OneDrive, at least as well as Backstage does. It could do with a search box, though – and, disappointingly, there’s no third-party cloud integration as yet. So no Dropbox or Google Drive.
The big question is, for those who have moved away to other offerings, is there enough in the latest version to justify subscribing? The answer is that it depends on your outlook (if you’ll pardon the pun). There’s no doubt that Office 2016 for Mac is a huge improvement. It looks more attractive, it’s easier to use than before and has more features than ever before.
But if you’re not interested in the latest UI gewgaws and a handful of features that may or may not be of use, then you’re better off sticking to what you have. Google Docs most certainly does the collaboration bit better, while iWork covers most basic needs perfectly adequately.