First Look At The More Mac-Like Microsoft Office 2011 Beta

Mac users have often felt like they got the short end of the stick with Microsoft Office, but were forced to use it anyway. We've taken a look at the leaked Office 2011 beta, and we're definitely happy about the new look.

Likely the first thing you'll notice in Office 2011 is that it's so much more Mac-like than its Office for Mac predecessors. In fact, it fixes most if not all of the annoying GUI elements of its forefathers: Office 2004 had that awful, kind-of-separate, but looks-like-it's-part-of-the-window toolbar at the top, and in Office 2008 they moved it to a completely separate palette which was even worse. Thankfully, in Office 2011, they've finally moved all the important formatting stuff to it's own ribbon, called "Home". There is still a separate toolbox that it shows by default, but it doesn't contain anything all that important that you can't just close it and re-open it form the toolbar if you need it.

The new ribbons (or rather, the actual ribbons that replace the ribbon-like "elements gallery" from 2008) are very similar to the ribbons in the Windows versions, making it easy for users to switch back and forth between both versions. They're much more useful than the old elements gallery. Instead of having another row of categories across the top that you had to click on and then page through to get to the millions of options contained within, they've compressed it, leaving each ribbon as one condensed bar of actually useful options. The stuff you had to page through before (like the previews of the table of contents style) has now been put into a separate drop-down or page-through box within the ribbon. The only problem is that, even though each ribbon has been condensed down to one bar, that bar usually contains more things than fit in a normally sized window, and the only way to reach stuff on the other side is to actually resize your window — here's no drop-down or way to scroll through to the overflow. (I'd imagine this will be fixed by the final version.)

On the cosmetic side, it seems they've tried to make everything look a bit more Mac-like than before. The template chooser you're presented with at launch looks remarkably similar to iWork's, and Outlook looks much better than before, which is a welcome change (it's even got a few ribbons of its own now).

Performance-wise, I haven't noticed a huge difference between this and Office 2008 — it's still much too slow for my tastes. The beta isn't super stable either, so it's probably not ready for your production machine, anyway.

But if you're a Mac user who has to use Office, it seems like a release to look forward to. If you've tried it out or just have your opinions about Office for Mac, let us know how you like the changes in the comments.


    I loved the old Office 2003 interface ... I was used to it. But I hated the 2007 interface and moved to the Mac.

    This is really sad that they're going to chuck that ugly interface on the Mac now. I hate it. What's wrong with the toolbox? I like the toolbox as it is used in every other application, such as OmniGraffle and the iWorks suite. I should be kept as it means all applications behave somewhat consistently.

    The worst thing about the big ugly ribbon is it takes away so much vertical space. Why can't they use the side of the screen.

    For that matter, what a stupid idea to make computer screens widescreen. I use the computer to work on not to watch TV or movies. A taller screen is much better for office work, so much so that I have a rotated secondary monitor just for word processing. But I really miss that vertical height when I'm away and forced to use just a small widescreen laptop, and this ribbon is going to ruin it even more for me. Groan!

    Um, not that I know why you're talking about monitors here, but... you can buy vertical monitors, and even spin some widescreen ones to that layout.

    As far as the ribbon goes, you can minimise it. Less whining and more understanding please.

      Hi Joel,

      I did say I use a rotated monitor. Who's not understanding now?I whined about monitors because they wide now. That means they're not tall. The old laptops had physically taller screens, I even had an old Dell that was taller than 4x3 it was very good.

      Why am I talking about monitors, again, because they're wide, not tall. Because they are not tall, we now have a large amount of screen real-estate being used up by lots of oversized toolbars that take away from the document I'm working on.

      This is a simple UI issue, why can't you understand that? Most things we do on a computer are not wide, so why don't the UI guru's put controls down the sides. The old toolbox did that; what was wrong with it?

      Yes it's true I can minimize the ribbon, but then I've also minimized the functionality. On Office 2003, I have a menu bar that is nice and small and gives me all the functionality. Also, very important to a writer, I can use the menubars shortcuts to quickly access the features without taking my hand off the keyboard. Yes I can still do that, but only if my memory is good enough; that is, you can no longer see the menu popping down when you press, say Alt-E (the edit menu), so you have to remember what the sub-menu letters were.

      Yes I'm whining. I used Word for approx 25 years now (started using it back in the DOS days), so I don't understand why MS has to change the user interface paradigm. Why force the user (specifically me) to relearn the damn application again? It's bad enough the Word often crashes when you use too much artwork intermixed with text in large documents, why make it harder to use at the same time. And by harder to use, I mean having to figure out where things are done nowadays.

      Yes I'm whining, for a good reason (and is why we have comment sections), but this is a case of YOU not understanding what I'm trying to say, which is:

      I want my screen real-estate and easy to use menus back.

      Hi Joel,

      Re-reading my post leaves me thinking I'm probably a little too curmudgeonly, a possible flaw as you get older. My apologise, I think I'll see if I can get hold of a beta copy and give it a proper investigation.

      It's just that I can't really see many functional improvements since 2003 (or maybe even Office 95, as that one was really fast).

    Does office 2011 support right to left languages like Hebrew and Arabic.

    I can't wait for this to be released. I hate Office for Mac 2008 - the floating toolbox only got in my way and made it hard to access things quickly when I needed them. In general, I've found it a difficult, clunky program that excels at making life harder when I'm trying to write anything, no matter how simple.

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