Not so long ago macintosh users were content with second-class citizenship in the world of software updates. Some companies, especially Microsoft, released upgrades to Windows/Intel PC versions first, integrating the improvements in Macintosh offerings later or sometimes never. That, however, is changing. The most recent version of Microsoft Office, referred to as Office Mac:2001, features significant improvements in the package's core components (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) and the addition of Entourage, a fantastic e-mail client and personal information manager (PIM).
The strongest changes appear in the redesigned Entourage, the replacement for Outlook Express. It sports a powerful address book, calendar and task manager complete with Palm synchronization, and it does so with a sophisticated yet simple to use interface that coordinates with the suite's other packages. For example, a Word file can be e-mailed to a client with a reminder sent to follow up after a specified period. Even better, the client's address book entry contains "links," or related files that appear any time the contact is viewed. Meanwhile, the new flagging feature specifies messages that need more attention and prevents e-mails from falling into an inbox black hole.
Writers and correspondents everywhere will rejoice at Word's new formatting palette (also found in Excel and PowerPoint), which is a floating box containing various text formats in one convenient, draggable location. Better yet, Mac:2001's live word counter keeps track of a document's length, while an intelligent Auto Correct option keeps an eye out for common misspellings and corrects them with the click of a mouse. Anyone who's complained about Word's lack of a dictionary will be more than satisfied with this built-in version.
The new interface allows for nearly infinite customizations and shortcut options. Web page creation is a snap with the nested table features, picture editing, and multiple-item clipboard. Number-crunchers will appreciate Excel's new interface as well, with its draggable formula bar and new calculator. Excel's new List Manager was added to simplify the task of creating columnar databases and even includes an import-wizard for converting Filemaker databases. Groups of files can be maintained with ease thanks to the new Save Workspace command that aggregates any number of project files into one large document.
PowerPoint finally breaks free from the "one template" rule, creating multiple styles for presentations. Easier navigation is accomplished by a new "Normal" view that concurrently displays the standard Slide, Outline, and Note views. The Auto Format feature reformats slides to reflow pages with a lot of text.
Office Mac:2001 is plagued by a few problems, among them the lack of a manual (the stylish new packaging doesn't allow space for one) and the "cute" little assistants (the only real hope for finding info on Office) who are as annoying and persistent as ever.
This said, few upgrades are so completely worth the cost as Microsoft Office for Macintosh, offering great new features and few drawbacks. This is a must-have upgrade for any business user, and one to show off the next time a PC user stops by.