Is It Worth It To Upgrade To The Latest Version Of Office?

Is It Worth It To Upgrade To The Latest Version Of Office?

Dear Lifehacker,
Earlier today, Microsoft released Office for Mac 2011. I like to keep up with the latest software, but is it worth the upgrade? Signed, Oscillating Over Office

Hey Oscillating,
That’s a good question, and one a lot Office users ask themselves whenever a new release hits the shelves. In fact, we looked into this when Office 2010 for Windows came out earlier this year. But let’s talk about it a little more and consider the Mac release a little.

The short answer

Unless you’re a Microsoft Office power user — by which I mean, you take advantage of the deepest and darkest secrets of Office, its advanced formatting options, server-oriented business tools, VBA scripts and so on — you don’t need to upgrade every time Microsoft releases a new version of Office.

The longer answer

It’s never that simple, though, is it?

Why You May Want to Upgrade
There are two main reasons you may want to upgrade to Office for Mac 2011: 1) Outlook and 2) cloud-based collaboration. This version of Office for Mac ships with Microsoft’s popular desktop client, Outlook. If you’re a Windows Outlook user or your workplace requires you to use Outlook but you want to stick with your Mac, that’s probably your most compelling reason to upgrade

Like Office 2010 for Windows, 2011 for Mac adds some cloud-synced collaboration. That’s a very nice thing if you have to use Office and want to work in tandem with someone on the same document.

Why You May Not Want to Upgrade
That said, if all you do is light word processing, data crunching and the like, save your money. Seriously. This is common knowledge among most geeks (well, actually, among geeks who don’t just download the latest upgrades via BitTorrent or Usenet), but it’s a good reminder.

Unless you’ve got a specific feature you need, you should stick with your old version of Office or, if you aren’t already using Office, go with something completely different. It’s not that Office for Mac 2011 is bad — it’s got some very nice improvements over its predecessor — it’s just that it costs $209 or $379 for the Home version and Business version, respectively. That’s a lot of cash for an improved feature set you probably don’t need — kind of like dropping hundreds on Photoshop when all you need to do is crop and scale photos.

What should you use instead?

Anything. Seriously. There are so many good and free Office-like suites that can handle what most of us need without breaking a sweat. In fact, at some tasks — like live collaboration — they’re still head and shoulders above Microsoft’s offering. (Office 2010 for Windows and 2011 for Mac have introduced some cloud-enhanced collaboration tools, but it’s still not up to what Docs can do.) Try Google Docs or Zoho, or even something like previously mentioned (which is just Etherpad resurrected).

You’ll also find no shortage of usable word processors for the desktop that can likewise read and write DOC files — like, say, the very fast Bean for OS X. (Even better, if you can get away with it, just stick with glorious plain text. Across platforms, you may also want to take a look at suites like or new spinoff LibreOffice. These suites are probably more horsepower than the average user needs, but if you need a middle ground between Microsoft Office and the lighter tools, they might be what you’re looking for.

We’re not trying to come off as anti-Office here. It’s a great productivity suite, and if you need specific features it offers — if you need more than regular old writing and spreadsheeting — you probably know it already, and you’re currently using and will continue to use Office.


P.S. Did you take the plunge and upgrade to Office 2011? Let’s hear what made it worth the upgrade price for you in the comments.


  • It has been added to the Microsoft TechNet subscription. This is new for this release – 2008 was not available on TechNet.

    A TechNet subscription is $AUS512 a year which I find pays for itself if you work in IT and have a few machines you play with and use for testing purposes. And most of us can claim it as well.

  • Hopefully the first release isn’t as broken as Office 2008 was off-the-shelf.

    We had so many issues when we bought 2010 which were later fixed with updates but it was painful. It is amazing how something that broken was still pushed out the door.

    MS don’t seem to do anywhere near enough testing for their Mac software.

  • Actually, of any of the recent office upgrades, this one is something all Mac users should seriously consider. You haven’t examined the performance and stability of the product and that is something that has been SIGNIFICANTLY improved.

    Word now takes ~10 seconds to open, rather than almost a minute. The interface is now consistent, and doesn’t reply on the Toolbox for some actions, toolbars for others, and the menu system for still others.

    Office 2011 is the greatest step forward since Office v.X was launched at the turn of the century, and is definitely worth every cent for every Mac user.

  • Are you kidding?

    Office 2011 is such a huge improvement over 2008 I would recommend anyone to upgrade – especially as its fairly cheap (especially family pack).

    Sure if you only write one letter a year to your tax agent, don’t bother – but then you wouldn’t be reading Gizmodo/Lifehacker would you…

    Unfortunately for power office users you are still better off with Windows 7 and Office 2007/2010 (its at least 5 times faster on the same hardware for a start), but Mac Office 2011 is actually a decent effort by Microsoft to improve the situation on mac, and the new compatibility and UI elements common across both systems make moving between Windows Office 2007/2010 and Office 2011 much more feasible than in the past…

  • For me, it was Outlook 2011. Even though I don’t have an Exchange account to use it with, I’ve got 3 accounts, personal and freelance work, that I need to manage and Outlook makes it supremely convenient, although some minor tweaks need to be made for GMail to work seamlessly. Entourage was a dog that I’m happy to see the back of.

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