Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 Review

Microsoft has just released their latest installment of Microsoft Office for Mac. We, at Chip Chick, couldn’t be more satisfied with it. It’s a huge improvement from its predecessor Office 2008 for Mac. Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have all seen great advancements in features, performance, usability, and compatibility. Microsoft Outlook is a brand new addition to the Office Suite for Mac as well. These four applications, paired with new features like collaborative “Co-Authoring” and Office Web Apps, puts Office 2011 for Mac right on par with its Windows counterpart; some may argue that it’s even better.

What’s New

There are a lot of new features in Office 2011 for Mac. We were very excited to see Microsoft’s Ribbon beautifully integrated in to all of the applications. Ribbon first appeared in Office 2007 for Windows and has since been transitioned into Windows 7. It lays out commonly used buttons and controls in a visual manner. These buttons and controls are grouped in tabs on the top of the window based on functionality. Some people are anti-ribbon; we say give it a fair chance, it might take some familiarizing. Should you choose, you can actually turn ribbon off; this is an option that is not available for Windows users. That said, ribbon for Mac is just like the Ribbon in Office 2007 and 2010 for Windows. This makes the transition from Windows to Mac that much easier.

Office Web Apps is brand new and a lot like Google Documents. Once you create a free Windows Live SkyDrive account you can store all of your documents and presentations online (25gb!) and make all of your edits using just a web browser. Office Web Apps are watered down in terms of features, but they have the essentials.

Coauthoring is another productive new feature where you can work on the same document with friends and co-workers. All changes are made in real-time. You can add audio and video chat to really make collaborative work a breeze. It doesn’t matter if the user is on a Mac or Windows, it’s compatible.

Also introduced in Office 2011 is a new Template Gallery for creating beautifully designed and consistent looking documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. There’s a search box to search for templates using keywords; it even searches online from thousands of templates to find exactly what you’re looking for. Scrolling over the template thumbnail will quickly reveal layouts, graphics, and fonts associated to that template.

The Media Browser is yet another nice addition. In any of the Office applications you can search through your photos, music, and movies to insert into your document. The media browser also includes clip art, symbols, and shapes, but only on Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Power users will be glad to see that Microsoft Office’s Visual Basic Editor is back. It was omitted from Office 2008. Using Visual Basic, you can create powerful macros to automate nearly anything in Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.

PowerPoint 2011

Designing professional looking presentations has never been easier. It takes very little effort to enhance any slide show to look professional-grade. There are thousands of beautiful templates to choose from. Picture editing is a breeze with the ‘Format’ tab on ribbon. Format all of your images using image styles and turn a good PowerPoint into a great PowerPoint.

A new feature exclusive to PowerPoint for Mac is Dynamic Reordering. Dynamic Reordering displays each layer of a slide in a 3D cross sectional view. This allows you to easily adjust your layout and choose how you want your graphics, text, and movies to overlap one another. Video clips are now embedded directly into the PowerPoint project; it will be part of the pptx file. There are brand new slide transitions, animations, and 3D effects to really make your presentation pop.

When you’re ready to show off your stunning looking presentation you can use Presenter view to do so. While your audience watches your slide show in full screen on a monitor or projector, presenter view (on your own screen) will display the current slide and the next slide, the notes for each slide, a timer, and also a progress bar. It’s everything you need to stay on track and deliver an optimal presentation. Alternatively, if your slide show viewers are at a remote destination you can send them a link to broadcast your slide show directly on the Internet. There is no special software required and it only requires a Windows Live account.

Excel 2011

Microsoft Excel has always been the bees knees for creating, analyzing, and managing sets of data. Excel has come a long way from just displaying numbers on a spread sheet. Excel 2011 for Mac has made great progress in displaying figures in a visual and coherent manner. Table styles takes all the hard work out of formatting your data set. Take it one step further and use conditional formatting to format your data set values using rules or conditions. One new example of conditional formatting is color scales: Make use of the color spectrum to highlight larger values in green, lower values in red, and everything else in shades of yellow. You can get very advanced with conditional formatting; it’s a huge improvement from the previous version of Office for Mac.

Sparklines is yet another feature to give your ‘numbers on a spread sheet’ a more visual appearance. Sparklines will insert small graphics, or representations of data, into the actual cell. Data can be expressed through spark lines in bar, line, or column form. It’s a neat way to see trends in your data without having to create charts or graphs which sit on top of your cells. Excel has always been a very powerful tool; Excel 2011 for Mac has made it even easier for anybody to create intelligent spreadsheets that look great and are easy to interpret.

Word 2011

Most everyone that has used a computer has used Microsoft Word at some point. For the longest time it was the go-to word processing application. Now, there’s a decent amount of competition for Word. It’s safe to say that Word is by far the most feature-rich of all the competition. Generally, features (aka bloat) slow down applications or complicate the user experience. This is not the case for Word 2011; there are a ton of powerful features, and they’ve never been easier to find or use (thanks to ribbon!). One of the new features for Word 2011 that has people very excited is full screen. Full screen view dedicates 100% of your screen to your Word document (with black bars on the side if you’re zoomed out). On the top of the screen is a small menu bar with the essential tools. Full Screen enables you to focus on your work and minimize distractions. Another new addition to Word is the ability to reorganize layers in a 3D environment using Dynamic Reordering. This is especially helpful in Publishing Layout where there is overlapping between graphics and text. Publishing View is much like Microsoft Publisher; it’s ideal for creating newsletters. ‘Styles’ in Word has also seen a nice improvement. Use styles to beautify your document with a consistent, recurring formatting. With Word 2011 it’s much easier to keep track of multiple styles using Visual Aids. There are a lot of tools to visually enhance your document, but remember you can make it easy on yourself and choose one of the thousands of templates available.

Outlook 2011

Outlook has made a triumphant return to Mac OS, and this time it’s not the “express” version. It has replaced Microsoft Entourage in the Office Mac Suite. Outlook 2011 manages all of your email, calendars, and contacts. Best of all, it’s fully compatible with Windows. You’ll have no problem migrating all of your mail, calendars, contacts, and settings from a Windows version of Outlook. Outlook offers a unified inbox for all of your email accounts. If you have five different email accounts you’ll only have to check one inbox, not five. It even threads your email conversations into groups under a single subject. This clears up space in your inbox and makes it simple to follow the progression of an email chain. Outlook has always had a very good handle on scheduling, which is why it’s widely used in the workplace. Sending meeting invitations and coordinating with people’s schedules couldn’t be easier. When you get a meeting invite in Outlook 2011 a preview of your schedule pops up to help you determine whether or not you can accept the invite. Outlook was very well integrated into OS X. You can ‘preview’ attachments, backup Outlook with Time Machine, and also use Spotlight to search for messages.

Installation and Performance

Installation was quick and painless. It took about ten minutes to install and there were only a few prompts to get through. You’ll need Mac OS 10.5 Leopard (or later) to install. The performance seems to have been greatly improved. All of my office apps just pop right open in a matter of seconds. The applications are all very speedy, even when they’re all open at once. The only time I have noticed any lag at all is while sifting through all of the fonts. I was a little disappointed to see that there are no real-time font previews (or style previews) when hovering over the font (or style). This was one of my favorite Windows features. That was really the only feature I felt Office 2011 is missing.
Tested on: 13” 1st Gen Unibody Macbook 2.4ghz, 4gb ram, 100GB OCZ Agility 2 SSD


It’s no exaggeration to say that Office 2011 for Mac is a gigantic improvement from Office 2008. I personally found Office 2008 for Mac to be unusable (having been accustom to 2007 for Windows). The toolbox was always disappearing, the menus and controls were confusing, and it was slow. iWork is usable, but lacked the features I’ve grown to rely on. Although Office 2011 may not have a consistent design with other Mac applications, it has an extremely familiar feel if you’ve ever used Office for Windows. Office 2011 is very fast and very powerful. It does not take a lot of effort to make eye-popping or mind-blowing presentations and documents. Everything can look professional-grade with a bit of effort. We couldn’t be happier that Microsoft has made Office 2011 very compatible with Windows and Windows Users. There are two versions of the Office Suite for purchase, and no upgrade prices. Microsoft Office for Home and Student includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for $119 for a single license or a $149 for the family version with three licenses. Microsoft Office for Home and Business includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook for $199 for one license or $279 for two licenses. If you have to wonder whether or not these prices are worth it, then yes, they’re worth it. If you don’t need Outlook then buy Home and Student; the only other difference is instead of a year of technical support, you get 90 days with Home and Student. You can purchase Outlook as a stand-alone application at a later date if necessary. My Mac finally feels complete now that it has these superior office applications.

The Good: Finally on par with Office for Windows, Fast, Great online/offline Template Gallery, Ribbon is well integrated
The Bad: No upgrade pricing, no real-time font previews when hovering


  1. Scott, thanks for a well thought out review. However, you did not cover some points I am wondering about the most. Namely:
    1. How is the Outlook for Mac at handling tasks?
    2. How well does Outlook work as a “stand alone” product? Not standing alone from the rest of Office but standing alone for those of us who have no need to sync with a Windows based machine. From everything I am reading the syncing is one of their big marketing points. I want to know about the program sans syncing!
    3. Maybe the question really is, how similar is Outlook for Mac as compared with Outlook for Windows?

    I am a long-time PC and Outlook user. Loved Outlook!! I have found nothing similar for the Mac. Entourage did not compare to the power of Outlook for Windows. Does this Outlook for Mac finally do it?

  2. I’d say a huge improvement would be if the “ribbon” was floatable and could be rotated. Computer screens are wider than they are tall and word documents are taller than they are wide, so being able to rotate the ribbon and float it to either side of the document would be a huge improvement.

  3. while installing it asked me to shut down Safai but my safari is not running and the installation is not completing, what can I do?

  4. Outlook 2011 does not import successfully from any other version of Outlook – attachments disappear, system crashes etc.. Have spent weekend trying to sort it but giving up and reverting to Windows – very disappointed.

  5. I am a long time Windows user (am familiar with Office 2007 and am now using Office 2010) – I recently purchased my first Apple (Macbook Pro laptop). Are the following available in Office for the Mac 2011?

    1. I do a lot of reviewing/editing of WORD documents for work and use Track Changes very often – is Track Changes available?

    2. In Excel I often use “View, Page Layout” to move the margins to facilitate printing large documents in fewer pages – is this available? (this didn’t seem available in Numbers)

    Thank you.