Government // Mobile & Wireless
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7/29/2010
10:58 PM
Jake Widman
Jake Widman
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Office 2011 Video Shows New Features, Marketing Challenge

Microsoft has released a video showing off some of the new features of the upcoming Office for Mac 2011. The video also unwittingly demonstrates the difficulties companies have in marketing product upgrades.

Microsoft has released a video showing off some of the new features of the upcoming Office for Mac 2011. The video also unwittingly demonstrates the difficulties companies have in marketing product upgrades.The video features employees in Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit speaking about the new version of the ubiquitous productivity suite. It opens with with a program manager for PowerPoint touting the new Templates Gallery that lets you visually browse "thousands of templates," including many that you can "get from online." It's not absolutely clear whether the Gallery provides a live link to online template repositories, so that you can browse and download them from within PowerPoint itself. That's the implication of the way the video is shot, and it would be pretty cool feature if it worked that way.

Next up are another program manager and a developer, to talk about the inclusion of Outlook in Office 2011. Outlook is, of course, the email client/contact manager/calendar utility from the Windows version of Office, and the Mac version will replace the Entourage component of previous editions of Office for Mac. The two point to "conversations, calendaring, and UI touchups" as features Mac users will welcome. The Conversation view does look useful: it enables you to group all the messages on one topic, not unlike Apple Mail's Organize By Thread option. In addition to grouping, though, a button collapses all the messages in a topic to a single line each showing the author and the beginning of the message. This could work very well to organize and manage your inbox -- IF everybody who sends a message on the topic uses the same subject line (or variant of it). The fact that people tend to start new messages with new subject lines rather than continuing to Reply lessens the usefulness of the Apple implementation and could do the same in Outlook. In other words, will the program be smart enough to group a response to your message titled "Second attempt--please reply!!!" with the responses others sent to your first missive?

The structure of Outlook's database should better with Time Machine than the Entourage database does, however. With Entourage, Time Machine sees the email database as a single file and will make a new copy of the whole thing to reflect just a few new messages. With Outlook, it will be able to do proper incremental backups.

The database is also integrated with Spotlight, according to the speakers, for quicker and easier searching of messages. That doesn't necessarily appeal to me -- Spotlight isn't set up for easy searches on multiple criteria; nor is Apple Mail, and I often miss that capability in that program. Entourage has an Advanced Search function that accommodates multiple criteria (From, Subject, Date, etc.), one of the ways that program beats Mail. From the video, it appears you may be able to chain criteria like you can in a Finder window search, so Outlook may support more complex searches.

Last up is a user experience manager to talk about how the new Office for Mac Ribbon "places the most commonly used controls right at your fingertips." It's both borrowed from Windows and an evolution of the Elements Gallery introduced in Office 2008. The speaker doesn't use the word "contextual," but if you look closely at the video, you can see that when he selects a photo in a Word document, a new Format Picture button appears on the Ribbon. I've never been much of a fan of ribbons and toolbars myself: my Word toolbar is heavily customized to show only the items I use (including a few I had to create my own icons for). But I am a fan of contextual menus. If the Ribbon can change as smoothly as the tool preferences in Photoshop, or as in this video, I'll applaud it6.

It's kind of amusing, though, the way this video implicitly criticizes earlier versions of Office (including 2008). Two different people talk about how things that you'd expect to take three or five steps now take only two. I can't help but take that as an admission that despite all their user testing, previous versions were needlessly complicated. Elsewhere, they use expressions like "it's a lot more Mac-like," "it's the definitive version of Office for Mac," it has a "native Mac look and feel." Sooo…what was up with the previous versions? You've been developing Office for Mac OS X for nine years now, and you've just come up with one that feels like a Mac program?

It's not Microsoft's fault, really. Every manufacturer faces the same dilemma when they introduce a New! and Improved! version of their product. But in an era when many businesses are going to be loathe to drop the cash necessary to upgrade all their employees -- after all, Office 2011 probably doesn't *do* much different from what you have already, though it might do it easier -- Microsoft faces the daunting task of making you dislike what they sold you two years ago while instilling confidence that what they want to sell you this year is a significant step forward.

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