capsule review

Microsoft Office v. X

The trickle of applications rewritten for Mac OS X is turning into a flood, and Microsoft Office v. X, the eagerly awaited upgrade to Office 2001 (4.0 mice. ; Reviews , January 2001 ), provides the mainstream productivity programs Mac users have been waiting for. But Office v. X is far more than a mere port of Office to OS X. With its superior integration into the OS X environment, nicely reworked Entourage X, and improved overall performance, Office v. X is a compelling upgrade. Office 2001 will remain available for people still running Mac OS 8 and 9, but Microsoft will be releasing only bug fixes (not updates) for that version. Office v. X requires OS X 10.1 or later to run, and future Office development will happen only for OS X.

General Office

Office v. X demonstrates Microsoft's strong support for Apple's transition to Mac OS X. Microsoft has Carbonized the entire Office suite, and its developers have done an excellent job of implementing new technologies such as Aqua; sheets; the Quartz drawing environment; and Carbon Events, OS X's architecture for efficient multitasking. Unfortunately, OS X users have become accustomed to seeing Carbonized applications lag behind classic versions of the same programs, as with the recent Painter 7. But Office v. X shows that when Carbonization is done well, you don't have to sacrifice speed. Even on a 400MHz G4 machine, the Office programs opened quickly, usually in 5 or 6 seconds. Operations are at least as fast in Office v. X as in Office 2001, and many are faster; some tasks, such as searching through Entourage's mail database, are significantly faster.

Office 2001 introduced the Project Gallery, a handy dialog box that served as a launcher for Office 2001 templates. Office v. X's Project Gallery adds a Based On Recent category, which displays copies of Office documents you've recently created or worked on. Double-clicking on a copy creates a new document that includes the text of the original document, ready for modification. It's basically just a more convenient method of performing a Save As operation, but it does save a few steps.Office v. X sports one inconvenient new feature, an antipiracy serial-number verification over your Ethernet LAN. When you start up an Office program, it looks for other Office programs with the same serial number running on any other computer on the LAN; if it finds a match, it will not run. (Macworld Lab has confirmed that the check is contained within the LAN and does not send any information over the Internet to Microsoft, so this shouldn't raise privacy concerns.)

Longtime Office users will have to get used to changed keyboard commands throughout the suite. Most of these changes are due to Office's compliance with Apple's Aqua user-interface guidelines. For example, apple-M previously sent and received all e-mail in Entourage 2001, but Aqua reserves that keystroke for minimizing the current window to the Dock, so in Entourage X, the Send And Receive All command is apple-K.

A Refreshing Aqua Blast

You'll see Office v. X's embrace of Aqua as soon as you open any of the suite's programs. All of the controls and icons sport the more colorful, rounded Aqua look. The Office programs' Save dialog boxes take advantage of Aqua's sheets, so they don't have to be dismissed before you can work in another document or application (see "Saved by Sheets" below); however, Print dialog boxes do not appear as sheets.

In keeping with Aqua's more active interface, the Office applications now draw more attention to themselves when an interface changes. For example, when you show or hide the sections of the Formatting palette, the sections slide smoothly into view, rather than simply appearing, as in Office 2001. Similarly, if you drag a tool palette to an edge of your screen to make it a tool bar, the document window and other tool bars slide politely out of the way.

All the Office applications take advantage of Mac OS X's Quartz drawing technology to set the opacity of drawing objects or pictures, and PowerPoint uses Quartz's superior text manipulation to antialias text on slides for clearer presentations. Interestingly, Word does not antialias document text, because if it did, the smoothed on-screen text would not look like the same text on the printed page.

Word

With the exception of Entourage X, you won't find many new features in the Office v. X programs. Word X's primary new feature, besides interface changes, is noncontiguous text selection, which enables you to select one or more separate blocks of text in a single operation (see "Separate Selections" below). Just select the first block of text, hold down the 1 key, and select another block. Your next operation, such as text formatting, is applied to all selected text. This is hardly a new idea; Nisus Software's Nisus Writer has boasted noncontiguous text selection since its early days, but this a welcome addition for Word users. The new Clear Formatting command resets the text selection to the default style for that paragraph; it can be a real time-saver.

Entourage

With a full interface makeover and a heartier database, Entourage X is a big improvement on Entourage 2001. Swapping the old Outlook Express look for the coolness of Aqua, Entourage now lets you switch between its mail and personal information management (PIM) features via six large buttons, making it easier to get to the features you want to use. Microsoft has also redesigned tool bars for each of the program's main areas.

Microsoft has also reworked the Calendar utility and made it much more useful, with a new three-pane view (see "Big Calendar Changes" below). In the main Calendar pane, color codes denote weekends and weekdays, events spanning multiple days are now displayed as banners rather than multiple events, and if you pause the cursor over an event, a label with the event's full name pops up. The second pane is a list of the current day's Tasks. Oddly, Calendar removes Tasks that you've marked as completed from the list, instead of striking them through, as in the separate Tasks view. The third pane contains minicalendars, which are nice, though they're not as useful as they could be. You can adjust the pane to show one or more months, but you can't view the previous month and the next month without the current month (you don't need the current month shown as a minicalendar, because you already have it in front of you in the main Calendar pane). It would also be helpful if the minicalendars displayed days with events differently from those without. Another annoyance is that there's no way to export your Calendar information out of Entourage without the help of an AppleScript. The absence of one important Entourage feature may give many potential upgraders pause. Unlike previous versions, Entourage X cannot synchronize with Palm handhelds, because Palm Computing has not yet released the required Mac OS X-native programs, called conduits. Microsoft has promised to make Palm synchronization avail-able for Entourage X, after Palm does its part, with a free downloadable update.

Microsoft has rewritten the Entourage database for increased reliability, faster performance, and integration into the multitasking OS X environment. The database is always running in the background, ready to accept events and updates from other Office programs, even when Entourage isn't open. That allows Entourage to work with the new Office Notifications program, which opens a window to let you know when scheduled reminders come up. Office Notifications also lets you know when you have an incoming instant message in the new MSN Messenger 2.1, which is included on the Office v. X CD.

Excel and PowerPoint

Neither Excel X nor PowerPoint X have a lot of new features, but both programs benefit from OS X technologies, especially Quartz. You can now control the opacity of drawing objects, including chart elements; this ability makes for better-looking charts that are also more useful (see "See-Through Charts" below).

Another nice new feature in Excel is the ability to customize keyboard shortcuts. As in Word, you can add, remove, and reassign keyboard shortcuts; unfortunately, you can't customize them in Entourage or PowerPoint.

Excel X protects you from crashes with AutoRecover, which saves a snapshot of your document at intervals you specify. If an AutoRecover snapshot more recent than your last manual save is available when you reopen a document after a crash, Excel opens the snapshot and allows you to continue working.

PowerPoint's new Packages feature allows you to consolidate your presentation and any linked files, such as external images, sound, or movie files, into a single folder, which you can then burn to a CD or send via e-mail; this solves the headache of file management. Export of PowerPoint presentations to QuickTime movies is also improved; they can now include interactive features such as hyperlinks and slide transitions.

Teething Pains

I found a number of bugs in Office v. X, mostly of the annoying but not disabling variety. PowerPoint X failed to print one slide of a presentation to a PostScript printer, even though the slide printed fine in PowerPoint 2001. Sometimes Word X could not keep up while I was scrolling through a document--the program displayed duplicated lines or distorted graphics--although the document looked fine when I stopped scrolling. In constant use and abuse over three weeks, the Office v. X programs occasionally crashed; however, they did so far less often than Office 2001's programs, which were quite reliable.

Macworld's Buying Advice

If you've made the transition to Mac OS X, you've experienced the annoyances of switching between native and classic applications. It's very likely that you've also endured the aggravation of crashing classic applications. Upgrading to Microsoft Office v. X solves both problems; the new suite provides reliability and performance superior to Office 2001's. While these programs include few new powerhouse features, Office v. X's excellent integration with OS X technologies such as Aqua and Quartz demonstrates Microsoft's attention to detail. If you rely on Office programs, the Office v. X upgrade should be an essential part of your move to Mac OS X.

Saved by Sheets: Aqua's sheets allow you to switch from one document to another without having to first deal with an open Save dialog box. Separate Selections: Word X lets you format several noncontinguous blocks of text in a single operation. Big Calendar Changes: No part of Office has changed as much as Entourage's Calendar. Event banners, pop-up labels, an integrated Tasks list and better use of color make Calendar far more useful. See-Through Charts: Both Excel X and PowerPoint X enable you to control the opacity of graphic objects, allowing you to create charts that are easier to read.
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