Office 2016 For Mac is Finally Here - What Can You Expect?

Philip Magson

Written by Philip Magson

If you're an Apple user frustrated by the lack of Office updates, Office 2016 for Mac might well be what you were hoping for. We take a look at what to expect...

It's fair to say that Office for Mac has left a lot to be desired in previous years. The last Office for Mac release was in 2011, and even then the software sorely missed a lot of key features, such as lack of full Outlook functionality and no support for ActiveX - an issue which really started to grate as the platform aged.

Yet, the wider Office platform continues to be phenomenally successful across both PC and Apple users: Office 365 has over 9.2 million subscribers, while Office for the iPad and iPhone has been downloaded more than 80 million times. For a long time, an updated version of Office for Mac has been a glaring omission in Microsoft's catalogue. With alternative platforms, like Google Docs, iWork and OpenOffice, going from strength to strength, it looks like Microsoft finally decided to pay attention to Mac users again - but now that Office 2016 is here, what can we expect from it?

What's New?

Office 365:  First up, it's worth mentioning that the current release of Office 2016 is only available to Office 365 subscribers - who will be paying yearly or monthly subscriptions. There is going to be a 'perpetual' licence release in September - if you don't mind waiting a little longer.

Ribbon re-design: The first thing you'll notice when you open Office 2016 on a Mac is the redesigned toolbar ribbon which has been cleaned up and pared down, allowing for smoother interaction with the various aspects of the suite. It's more than a cosmetic change, offering a streamlined interface which brings the Mac version into line with Windows.

Retina support: This one may be cosmetic, but it lets Office 2016 take advantage of the Mac's attractive retina-display screen, enhancing the appearance of each application within the suite - colourful, clear and easy on the eyes.

Trackpad: A useful Mac-specific feature, multi-touch trackpad gestures will be incorporated into Office 2016, which means you'll be able pinch-zoom in and out of documents and spreadsheets to look at detail. The scrolling animation has also been made smoother.

Smart Lookup: Right-clicking highlighted text in Office 2016 will bring up a 'Smart Lookup' window, which will contain contextually relevant information about the selected content. It's an innovative addition which should bring a significant degree of efficiency to many tasks.

Cloud Storage: Since it's a Microsoft platform, Office 2016 will connect seamlessly to OneDrive (in fact, with an Office 365 subscription you'll have 1 Terabyte of data storage), but there's also access to other cloud storage providers, like Box and Dropbox, although you'll have to set these third-party services up with OS X's Finder windows.

Collaboration: A welcome feature for business users - collaborative editing of Office 2016 documents has been made a lot easier and a lot more functional. Multiple users can work on a document at the same time, with real-time changes highlighted immediately for everyone to see. Meanwhile threaded comments will let users address each others' changes directly during the editing process, encouraging an on-the-go collaborative experience from the comfort of your desk or train carriage or home.

Giving Us What We Want

If you're still undecided about Office for Mac, there's also Microsoft's charm offensive to consider: Han-yi Shaw, lead engineer on Office for Mac claims "The days of waiting years for new software... are over". Since Office for Mac and Office for iPad share a common codebase, the two platforms are going to be developed simultaneously and, according to Shaw, "at a pace of monthly updates" - rather than the previous 'once-in-a-half-decade' we've come to expect.

While it's clear that Microsoft hasn't re-invented the wheel with Office 2016 (and I'm sure there are plenty thinking 'too little too late'), it looks like genuine thought has been put into how to give Mac users what they wanted all along - and keep the platform neck-and-neck with (or an attractive alternative to) Google Docs.

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