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The current version of Office for Mac came out in 2011. That’s almost five years ago, and its Windows counterpart has evolved quite a bit since then. Hands up if you think that the current version looks sleek and modern? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Microsoft is working on the next version of Office for Mac, due for release in 2016. For the time being, a (surprisingly stable) preview is available to download and use.

Today we’ll be taking a look at all the changes and seeing if there’s anything worth getting excited about!

Complete Redesign

The biggest change for the suite is to the look, design, and feel of the various office applications. Office for Mac 2011 already enjoys most of the features found in its Windows counterpart, although there were some notable exceptions Microsoft Office for Mac: Is It Any Different? Microsoft Office for Mac: Is It Any Different? There have traditionally been both good and bad differences between the Windows and Mac versions, so we were wondering if this was still true today. Read More such as macros (which still aren’t available but may come eventually since Microsoft open-sourced their .NET framework).

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The user interface was downright ugly and gave it a much different feel than in Windows. Microsoft updated the design of the Office suite for Windows in 2013 Microsoft Office 2013: Unofficial Guide Microsoft Office 2013: Unofficial Guide If you're considering an upgrade to Office 2013, or you've just paid for the package and want to make the best of it, this Microsoft Office 2013 Guide is for you. Read More , and they are finally bringing that over to the Mac version too.

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Last year, Microsoft released a totally redesigned version of OneNote and made it independently available via the App Store. Reviews applauded its improved functionality and great looks. Thankfully, the new version of OneNote served as a preview for what the rest of the Office suite would look like, and the results are beautiful.

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Features of the new design include a great implementation of the ribbon user interface and new window decorations with color schemes appropriate for each suite application. Simply put, everything looks like it was rebuilt from the ground up and made so everything fits together much better, especially on Retina displays.

Other Improvements

Although the new design is one of the biggest new features, it’s certainly not the only one. This new version of Office also offers much better integration with OneDrive and SharePoint, as you probably already guessed if you’re familiar with the Windows version.

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Each individual application also comes with its own improvements. Outlook brings Online Archive support, side-by-side calendars, and other small improvements in addition to the new look. The three other major components of the suite bring a lot more changes than Outlook, so let’s take a look.

Word

Word has a new Design tab that makes manipulating pictures, shapes, and effects easier than ever. There’s also a Styles pane that should allow for quicker modifications of styles (which means making changes to the whole document gets quicker and easier).

There’s also a new collaboration feature that reminds me of Google Drive, but it only displays its changes when participants click on the Save button, rather than displaying real-time changes.

Excel

Excel provides all of the functions found in Excel 2013 for Windows, bringing that Mac version well and truly up to speed. Additionally, all of the familiar keyboard shortcuts from Windows are now finally being implemented on the Mac as well.

It also offers a setting that sets the function keys (F1 through F12) as the default within Excel, so you don’t have to press Fn every time you want to use them. The Formula Builder now has the same quality as in the Windows version, and Excel can even export to PDF now.

PowerPoint

PowerPoint offers all the  new slide animations and transitions you’d expect along with an improved Animations pane and an easier way to solve file version conflicts. There’s also a new Presenter View that shows slides on one display and presenter notes on another, and the whole application just feels far more similar to what is found in Windows — at last.

What’s it Like?

I’ve been using the new preview of Office for a few months now, and I have really enjoyed it so far. The new design is so much more pleasing on the eyes, performance is noticeably improved (startup times are much better), and it finally feels like Office for Mac has become a first-class citizen on OS X as well as in Microsoft’s portfolio.

In fact, I’ve been using it over the 2011 version ever since I got it because it’s so nice to use. It just feels like an Office application should. And quite surprisingly I’ve not had any issues with stability either. The apps are responsive, although some actions (such as switching between tabs in the ribbon) seem to lag for just a split second before reacting. These are things you’d expect Microsoft to fix before the final release.

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There are plenty of new templates available in the various applications that will take care of most of your needs. You can also customize the various apps from a preferences pane that’s organized in the exact same way as the System Preferences for your Mac are.

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I highly recommend that you go ahead and switch to the preview, because literally anyone can use it. Some people stick with Windows because that version of Office is better, but this upcoming version of Office for Mac will soon make that a nonexistent reason to stay with Windows.

Yes, that’s how much I like it. I’ve been trying to see what I can criticize it for, but there’s not much.

Anyone Can Get It

That’s right, even if you don’t currently own Office, you can try it out for free for a limited time. Microsoft makes each new build of the preview expire after 90 days, so you won’t be able to use it for long once it’s officially released. But while it’s a preview, it’s totally free and Microsoft will come out with new builds at least every 90 days so there aren’t any interruptions.

Just go to this page, download the installer, and then let it do its thing. You’ll be able to have both the preview and the 2011 version (if you have it) installed at the same time, and choose between the two via the “Open With” menu option when you right-click on an Office document.

Once you have it installed, you can use it just like the previous version of Office. There are virtually no compatibility issues (if anything, the compatibility should have improved — any issues you do encounter are bugs as this is still a preview), and it still uses the same .DOCX, .XLSX, and .PPTX extensions that have been around for close to a decade now. As far as my own experience goes, I haven’t had a single problem with my relatively-plain Office files.

A Much-Needed Improvement

If you currently have Office 2011, I recommend that you get the preview at start using it. Not only is it already fantastic, but it also lets you give feedback to Microsoft about any improvements you think they should make before they officially release it as the next version of Office. Your input can only help make it even better than it already is. Just remember that once it’s actually released, you’ll need to buy it (you know, with money) before your preview copy expires.

What do you think about this preview of Office for Mac? Will you start using it again?

  1. Fraser Smith
    July 14, 2015 at 2:51 am

    Did the author do any fact checking at all before publishing this article?

    "Microsoft is working on the next version of Office for Mac, due for release in 2016. "

    It was released last week, the preview is no longer available. Even a rudimentary search of this site alone would have shown that minor fact.

  2. Jason Drapala
    July 13, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    It looks like Office for Mac 2016 is now officially available, there is no longer an option to download a preview. You can get a 1-month free trial but a CC is required.

  3. J. Simon van der Walt
    July 13, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Quite nice, but some odd graphic bugs. Also, limited customisation of the UI, toolbar in particular.

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