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A minimalist’s five favorite things about Microsoft Office:Mac 2011

For the past week and a half, I’ve been playing with a pre-release version of the latest Microsoft Office:Mac courtesy of Microsoft Canada and Microsoft Office:Mac evangelist Kurt Schmucker, who flew in from Seattle to brief journalists. And for those of us who insist less is more, 2011 makes some great strides forward.

In the short time we had to chat (I was REALLY late due to the sad meeting of a pickup truck and a streetcar – I wasn’t driving either, mind you), Kurt quickly (but kindly) ran through a demo and patiently answered a few questions before he had to leave for the airport to catch a flight back home to Seattle.

I’ll never give full marks to any tech company for any of their products (not even Apple in spite of its skyrocketing stock price, great products and Apple Store service). That said, there’s a lot of positive in MS Office: Mac 2011, and it’s largely in the little things that make life easier. Here’s a quick list of my favorite new stuff so far:

My Day

Technically a carryover from Entourage, My Day lets you keep Outlook closed, ignore your email, and just focus on your calendar and to-do list. It’s a great way to work, and Microsoft lets us keep doing this with a redesigned My Day application that fits into a small corner of the screen.

Time-Machine friendliness

Time Machine is Apple’s built-in backup system. Just plug in an external hard drive, flip an on-screen switch and you’re covered. (I should know – my hard drive died Sunday, and I got everything back on my computer using my Time Machine backup.)

Entourage creates massive databases that take forever to back up. Just the addition of one email makes the next hourly backup cover the whole 2.5 GB (in my case) monstrosity. Not so with Outlook, which keeps each item (email, calendar entry, contact and so forth) as a separate file. And if one item gets corrupted, you trash it instead of spending hours troubleshooting an entire database (I speak from sad experience.)

Conversations

Outlook lets you organize messages by topic, a feature known as threading in other email clients. I use this so I can zip through a thread on a given topic more quickly, without having other topics interrupt the flow of the thread.

I could say that Microsoft copied this feature from Mac Mail right down to the “flippy triangle” but Microsoft actually went one step beyond – Outlook conversations pick up related messages in other folders too, something Mac Mail has yet to accomplish.

(Hiding) the Ribbon

This isn’t just a backhanded compliment. Back in 2007, Microsoft learned that many people didn’t want to adapt to the Ribbon, a “super toolbar” meant to put more features in front of customers. So in Mac: 2011, you can hide the Ribbon and work with the same menus and toolbars you know from previous versions of Office:Mac.

Trying to decide if the ribbon is for you? It is if you’ve ever asked Microsoft to create a feature for one of its Office programs that already exists, without bothering to check online help. (Yes, such people exist – I met plenty of them during my days as an instructional designer and software trainer.)

Just float your mouse pointer over the ribbon to see all the stuff it holds. You might be pleasantly surprised. If you aren’t, just shut it off using the Ribbon panel in Word preferences.

Paste and Match Formatting

It may be lifted from Apple’s Paste and Match Style, but who cares? I can FINALLY make text I paste into a Word doc that came from somewhere else look exactly like the text around it, using just ONE menu option. That cuts my use of the Paste Special feature down about 90 per cent.

What do you like about Microsoft Office 2011:Mac? Let me know in the comments below.

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