Microsoft releases Office 2016 for Mac, but just for Office 365

A standalone version will be released in September, Microsoft said.

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After years of treating the Mac as an also-ran, Microsoft has changed its tune: Microsoft formally released Office 2016 for the Mac on Thursday morning, even before it released it for Windows. The only catch? If you’re not already an Office 365 subscriber, you’ll be forced to wait until September.

If you do subscribe to Microsoft’s Office 365 subscription service, obtaining the new software should be a snap: just surf to Microsoft’s Office account page and follow the instructions. Students can also check to see if they qualify for a free or discounted copy.

The supported Office 365 subscriptions start at $7 per month or $70 per year with Office 365 Personal, and also include the pricier versions of Office 365 Home, Business, Business Premium, E3, or ProPlus. Each Office subscripton also includes the rights to use Office on both iOS and Android, as well as Mac and Windows PCs.

We first explored Office 2016 for the Mac back in March, when Microsoft released a preview version of the software. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook, with a Mac-like feel to it all. 

Why this matters: In the intervening five years since Microsoft last released a version of Office for the Mac (Office 2011!), numerous other office suites have put down stakes on the Mac, not the least of which has been Apple’s own iWork productivity suite.  But Microsoft’s argument is that, with Office, your work is connected and stored in the cloud—available on basically whatever platform you wish. Microsoft has also tried to differentiate itself from other office suites by adding intelligence to both its software and data sets that you can connect to—providing up-to-date sales data in a spreadsheet, for example, rather than just a moment in time.

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OneNote makes its first appearance in a Mac office suite with Office 2016, although it did launch as a standalone Mac app in 2014.

Bringing Office up to date

The new Office suite also addresses general shortcomings with the suite that Microsoft has struggled with, regardless of platform. A good example is real-time collaboration, where users can edit a document simultaneously, rather than send it back and forth for updates and other edits. Google has offered this with its online Google Apps suite, but it’s a feature that Office has lacked until recently.

Microsoft highlighted a few of the improvements that it provided for each specific Office application: in PowerPoint, for example, the new improved Presenter View shows you your current slide, the next slide, your notes, and a timer, while your audience sees only the presentation itself. Outlook contains a conversation view and threading (nothing really new where email is concerned, of course), and Excel will do a better job of recommending specific charts to showcase your data to best effect. New PivotTable Slicers also help you filter large volumes of data, Microsoft said.

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Excel for Office 2016 for the Mac.

The newest addition to the Office for Mac suite is OneNote, Microsoft’s note-taking app for Windows and mobile platforms, although OneNote did launch as a standalone Mac app in 2014, and it’s on iOS too. You can save your notes in notebooks that reside in the cloud. Notes can include a mixed bag of text, Web pages, and graphics, especially handy for, say, college lectures that combine a variety of media.

For those of you who have tried out the Office Preview, what’s your take? Is iWork superior to the new Office, or is this just what you’ve been waiting for? We’ll have our own formal review soon.

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