Office for Mac 2011 Gives Microsoft, Apple An Edge


Ever since Microsoft launched its Office suite of productivity applications, we’ve been bombarded by arguments for why competing offerings were better. Whether it came from vendors who competed with opposing commercial applications, or the open-source community with OpenOffice.org’s suite, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has never lacked for a fight in this space.

So with the resurgence of Apple’s Mac platform, Microsoft could have been faced with another tough fight. Instead, the company has produced versions of Office for Mac that have delivered enough compatibility between Windows and Mac -- and Cloud Computing -- to give it a seat at the table.

With Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, it now deserves an even better seat.

The CRN Test Center examined Office for Mac 2011 Home and Business Edition (list $199.95) on a new MacBook Air, and found it surpassed previous versions of the Mac-based Office suite in terms of functionality, its snappy performance and -- importantly -- compatibility with cloud-based Office Live as well as Apple’s MobileMe online service.

The result: if hesitancy to run Office on the Mac platform was keeping anyone from migrating from Windows to Mac OS X, that really can’t be an issue any longer. Office for Mac 2011 not only surpasses previous versions of the software, but it’s got a significant leg up on rivals including Google Apps -- with both functionality and desktop/cloud integration.

Armed with a Mac, a subscription to MobileMe and an active Office Live account from Microsoft, here’s how it all comes together:

When you create, say, a Word Document in Office for Mac 2011, you’re given the file-saving options you would typically get -- but with the additional option of saving to MobileMe’s iDisk, its cloud-based e-mail, calendar, contact and storage offering. iDisk is positioned to look like any other hard drive in the Mac’s file system, so it’s very familiar and intuitive.

To then port the file to Office Live, it’s simply a matter of clicking on the Microsoft Document Connection Feature in Office for Mac 2011. The Document Connection console allows for uploading and downloading files, reading, editing, checking them in and checking them out. Moving files into the free Office Live allows for all of Microsoft’s functionality to be employed: reading, editing and sharing documents via browser or having the opportunity to access them by someone who lives and works inside Microsoft Office on a Windows PC all day.

Why does Office for Mac 2011 take on new relevance now?

With Apple shifting toward a flash-based storage architecture for its MacBook Air, which is faster but with less capacity, the beginning of a move toward saving data to the cloud from client productivity applications could be an important first step toward changing usage patterns. That you can now create, edit and share everyday work product -- even big-footprint PowerPoints in Microsoft Office in a Cloud Computing environment -- regardless of PC operating platform could be a watershed moment.

Another important part of Office for Mac 2011 is the Outlook portion of the suite. For those who have become used to living inside the Outlook console during the entire work day, there is little to nothing to sacrifice in this version for the Mac. It just works.

With the announcement of Oracle Cloud Office, which the CRN Test Center will review shortly, competition will heat up. However, Oracle (and before this, Sun Microsystems) may have missed an opportunity to take an important leadership role in bridging the gap between mobility and hosted software. Apple and Microsoft, now with Office for Mac 2011 and Apple's growing lineup of client devices, have already gotten there.