Microsoft Office for Mac 2016 review: At last, a modern Office for OS X

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Microsoft Office for Mac 2016 review: At last, a modern Office for OS X

Word for Mac 2016 review

As with the rest of the Office for Mac 2016 suite, the main thing you’ll notice the first time you fire up Word for the first time is the way it looks. This is a slightly odd experience, principally because it looks so much like the Windows version it sometimes feels like you’re living in some weird dual reality, something that hits home even harder when you go full screen.

Whether you like the Ribbon interface or not (I’m in the latter group in case you hadn’t worked it out), though, there’s no doubt that in this version its reorganisation makes every app easier to use, while the cleaner design means it’s more pleasurable to work with.

The confusing Document Elements tab, for example, has now gone, to be replaced with the far more sensibly named Design tab, which provides access to different Themes, style sets and colour swatches, allowing you to apply universal formatting to your documents in a couple of clicks.


A number of other problem UI areas are fixed this time around as well. The floating Inspector panel has disappeared: some of its features have been subsumed by the ribbon, while the Styles selector now features as a panel that docks into the right-hand side of the application window.

Microsoft has also redesigned the Navigation pane, which now docks into the left side of the application window – another subtle yet welcome improvement. Accessed via the View ribbon, this provides navigation via page thumbnails, a collapsible style tree, a summary of comments and is also where the find and replace resides.


(Not quite) live collaboration

An equally major development is that Word 2016 for Mac has now picked up the facility for multiple users to collaborate on a single document. They can now add and edit away to their heart’s content, no matter where they are or what device they’re working on, be that an iPad, an iPhone or (gasp) even a Windows laptop.

Before you get too excited (I know, it’s only Office, but still), this isn’t live collaboration like you get with Google Drive documents, where you can see in real time others typing into your shared documents, deleting your precious words and making crude jokes at your expense; it can’t even match Microsoft’s own OneNote application on that front.


It is, however, better than nothing and works well as far as it goes. As you edit, dotted lines bracket the left side of paragraphs you’re working on to mark out that they’re different from the original document, and each time you save you’re notified if others have commented or changed anything.

Just as in Google Docs, you can reply to comments inline, and see who has made changes, as well as when they made them. When multiple edits are made to the same sentence of a paragraph, Word flags these up for someone to fix later, and if anyone becomes a nuisance, they can be blocked by the originator of the document.

Different strokes

Despite the almost identical looks, Word for Mac doesn’t quite copy the Windows version, feature for feature. Some of the icons look different, a change that is largely for the better. For example, the Track changes on/off button on the Review tab of the Ribbon toolbar takes the form of a toggle on the Mac version; far easier to understand than the rather cryptic button on the Windows version.

The real-time Style preview feature doesn’t make it over, either. On Windows, as you hover your mouse over one of the Style sets in the Ribbon, the text changes automatically. On OS X, you have to actively click the style, making it trickier to preview a style change, but easier to avoid having your text style change by accident, merely by nudging the mouse over it.


Elsewhere, there’s no sign of any Word specific apps, a feature Microsoft was very keen to push in the Windows version. The touchscreen-specific features of Office 2013 for Windows are also missing. For the most part, these differences are completely understandable. The Office app store never really took off in a big way, and since no Mac has a touchscreen, it’s unsurprising that there’s no need for a view that provides slightly larger, more finger-friendly icons. I do find it slightly odd that there’s no Reading view: although designed for touch operation, it did provide a distraction-free view that many users appreciated.


Despite this, Word does feel like a huge improvement. It’s more attractive to look at, easier to use and boasts a handful of useful new features. Once you’ve started using it you most certainly won’t want to go back.

The trickier question to answer is whether you need to use Word any more. It used to be the first piece of software you bought for any machine, be that a Mac or PC, but those times have changed. On the one hand it remains the best solution for anyone needing to work with large, complicated documents, and retain complex formatting across platforms. Lawyers, editors and writers of technical documents and manuals need look no further.

For everyone else, however, the benefits of the new Word are largely skin deep. If you’ve discovered you can get along with Pages, or Googe Docs (or a combination of both), since 2011, there’s nothing here that changes that.

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