Microsoft is trying to generate interest in its upcoming Office for Mac 2011 productivity suite by drip-feeding information about new features.
The company has released the first in a series of videos showing that it will finally replace the cumbersome Entourage personal information manager with Outlook. Other additions include the debut of the ribbon interface on the Mac, and a template gallery.
For years Microsoft decided not to port Outlook to its Mac suite, instead sticking with Entourage. While the application had many functional similarities with its Windows cousin, poor integration with Mac OS resulted in a program which was difficult to use over prolonged periods.
Users will be delighted to hear that Outlook for Mac will properly integrate with Sherlock, the built in search for Mac OS. At this point it is unclear whether Outlook will be able to handle large mailboxes more efficiently, avoiding the common database corruption suffered by users.
The demonstration sees the appearance of the much maligned 'conversation view' from Outlook 2010 on Windows. Whether it will work more reliably remains to be seen, but it is nice to see Mac users having some sort of feature parity on Microsoft products after all this time.
Microsoft has also updated PowerPoint's template gallery, which now allows for easier browsing. The firm also mentions that it will integrate with third-party template web sites, allowing users to easily manage their library.
Again, there was no mention of increased compatibility between versions, vital for those times when presentations have to be loaded onto another machine.
In this preview Microsoft made no references to increased stability or inter operability among Windows and Mac versions. Those who use Word and Excel will have experienced first hand how poor the applications work in an enterprise environment, where documents are shuttled among users with different versions and operating systems thrown in.
Instead, the firm mentions that it combines the best of Apple design with its software development expertise. The problem for heavy users of Office on Mac is not design flourishes, but the ability to rely on a piece of software which, rather than helping to reduce their workload, adds to it.
So far, little of what Microsoft has announced in Office for Mac 2011 points to an easier life for Mac users. Its decision to ditch Entourage is a positive one, but major improvements to Word, and especially Excel, will be needed if Microsoft's claim of Office 2011 being the "definitive version of Office" holds true.
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