Word 2008, by Microsoft
Posted: 2-Jun-2008

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Microsoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Mel Krewall Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Overview
Microsoft Word is the most popular word processor in the business world, and the Mac version is available as part of Microsoft's Office 2008 for Macintosh package. With Word 2008, Microsoft has produced an Intel-native version of the venerable Macintosh word processor with more new features and changes to the interface. Does the latest version bring benefits that are worth the considerable cost? Let's take a closer look.

Requirements

  • A Mac computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4 (500 MHz or faster) processor
  • Mac OS X version 10.4.9 or later
  • 512 MB of RAM or more
  • 1.5 GB of available hard disk space for the entire suite
  • DVD drive
  • 1024 x 768 or higher-resolution monitor


Price
When you shop for Office 2008 on Microsoft's website, it takes you to a page of
various dealers, and the price ranges from $299 to $399.

Setup
Office 2008 uses a standard Mac installer to install all components of Microsoft Office (see screenshot below). Unlike with Office 2004, there is no longer a drag and drop installation. The installer requires the product key number to be entered before the install begins. The installation process is simple and straightforward.


Installing Office 2008 for Mac

Basics
The basics of Word remain as they always were. The premier general-purpose word processing application continues to be an essential part of most office (and many home) user's experiences and the currency with which document interchange is transacted. Microsoft has polished the Macintosh-specific version of Office and Word into arguably the more attractive and usable version. The Mac version is minus the controversial Ribbon interface while gaining an Elements Gallery that seems to steal the look and feel from Apple's Pages. More new features are added, while changes are made to some others. Whether it is right for you will depend greatly on what you want out of it. To a great extent, the biggest feature many users are looking for is simply an Intel-native version.

Universal Binary
To start off with, Microsoft has finally converted Office into a Universal Binary, which will run natively on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs. This has been a long-awaited development, as Apple announced the transition to Intel processors in June 2005 and shipped the first Intel Macs (the MacBook Pro and iMac Core Duo) in January 2006. Apple completed the Intel transition with the Mac Pro in August 2006. Microsoft finally shipped the Universal Binary Office 2008 in January. So was the wait for the UB version worth it? I started with a completely updated copy of both Word 2008 12.0.1, and Word 2004 11.3.6. On my freshly rebooted test machine, an iMac Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz with 4 GB of RAM installed, Word 2008 launched in about 23 seconds. Word 2004 running via Rosetta emulation on the other hand, launched in about 17 seconds. This is certainly not what I had hoped for. A second launch of each program however, yielded a time of about 6 seconds for Word 2008, versus a time of around 11 seconds for Word 2004. Subsequent launches were consistent with the second launch times. While it is nice that the launch time comes down for later starts, the first one of the day is what I get impatient waiting on.

As far as speed during use, the interface was very responsive and text entry seldom lags as it sometimes did under Rosetta emulation.

User Interface
Microsoft has made a significant change to Word's user interface. It is quite consistent with Apple's current look and, as I previously mentioned, looks a lot like an iWork application. The document window has taken on the unified title and toolbar scheme and the icons are more Mac-like than previously. Conveniently, the toolbar follows the window around, unlike Word 2004 which stayed anchored in the upper left hand corner. This is consistent with Apple's current implementation in the iWork suite and other Apple software. I personally like the look quite a lot, but of course everyone will have their own opinion. The default toolbar set is shown below. You can still display the traditional toolbars via the View -> Toolbars menu, but with some of the changes that have been made, you'll find yourself less likely to do so.

Elements Gallery
The next significant user interface change, just below the toolbar, is the Elements Gallery. which includes Document Elements, Quick Tables, Charts, SmartArt Graphics and WordArt. If it's possible to change the tabs in the Elements Gallery I was not able to find the way to do it, so you're stuck with what Microsoft has chosen. The choices represent convenient, if not frequently used elements to make your document look better. It seems like I use WordArt not quite often enough to remember where to access it in Word 2004 (it's under Insert -> Picture -> WordArt, illogically enough) that it's nice to have it in the Elements Gallery, but not so often that I really want it there all the time. The Document Elements tab, which houses selections for Cover Pages, Table of Contents, Header, Footer and Bibliographies is much more useful, as is the Quick Tables tab, which will immediately remind you of Apple's Numbers.


New Word 2008 Toolbar
/ Quick Tables

These elements make it much easier to add title pages, tables of contents (TOC), and other items you might have struggled with in the past. For instance, add a TOC to the front of a blank document and instead of just ending up with an unformatted TOC, Microsoft inserts text that tells you how to add headings later in the document that will then be added to your TOC. When you click anywhere inside the TOC, a tab appears that you can pull down to Update or Remove the TOC. Especially if you don't do this often (like me) it's much easier than it used to be. The headers and footers are much friendlier, too, identifying if it's the First Page, Even or Odd header or footer.


Improved Table of Contents Creation


Publication Layout View
Microsoft has added a new view modes for documents in addition to the previous Normal, Outline, Print, and Notebook views, the Publishing Layout. This, of course, looks much like Apple's Pages. The background of both the Publishing Layout view and Notebook view now have a customizable desktop (including several woodgrains, leather, blueprint, composites and metals). The Elements Gallery is context sensitive, so when you have a Publishing document open it offers templates you may want, like Newsletters, Brochures, Flyers, Invitations and quite a few more. Each one has from two to more than a dozen sample templates to choose from. Given that I have spent much more time in Word than Pages, I find it easier to use this layout mode, since I am more familiar with Word's formatting palette than Pages' Inspector palette. All of the content in the Elements Gallery seems much easier to use than Microsoft's Ribbon interface in the Windows Office 2007 version.


Publication Layout View


New Publication Templates


Speaking of the formatting palette, it has lost the annoying transparency from Word 2004 (which, ironically enough I just found the option to disable while writing this review). Instead, it adds more context sensitive switching to present you with relevant options based on what element of the document, text or graphic element you have selected. Also, the separate formatting windows that things like Clip Art and WordArt had in Word 2004 are now incorporated into the formatting palette, rather than floating around randomly. Also, the View menu item icons match the Toolbox icons, so you can tell which one you are selecting from the menu bar.

Word 2008 boasts some iLife integration as well. In the Object Palette, if you select the option to insert a photo, a list with all your iPhoto albums and photos will appear that you can choose from

Notebook View is now more photorealistic including metal ring binders on the left and also has the customizable workspace with the same selection of backgrounds as Publishing Layout view. It now has cellophane-looking tab dividers to separate your sections. Functionally it is much the same, with drag-able lines, so you can rearrange your notes as desired. The audio note tool in the notebook can be used to record lectures and presentations, as well.

Animations
Much attention has been paid to fit and finish with this application, as it appears that Apple-only technologies like Core Animation were used to produce animations in the Elements Gallery buttons and template choices and on page view buttons. Whether you will find these attractive or annoying will of course be a matter of preference, but I find they add a Mac-like feel to the program you might use at work in Windows. I know I much prefer this version to the one I'm currently using at work.

Preferences
The Preferences dialog has been changed to mimic Mac OS X's System Preferences. The settings are the same as you remember, just presented in a very Mac-like manner.


Word 2008 Preferences Dialog


Issues and Incompatibilities
First, Word haas a new XML file format called DOCX. These files are incompatible with previous versions of Word and currently Microsoft has delayed a converter to assist users of earlier versions in opening them. If you need to share Word documents with co-workers or friends, (and who doesn't?) you will need to change the default file format in the Save preference panel back to the legacy .DOC format. That problem is easy to fix. The next one is harder. During Microsoft's conversion of Office to a Universal Binary the company made the decision to end support for the longstanding macro system, Visual Basic for Applications, or VBA. When it did so, years of accumulated macros disappeared in a flash. Instead, AppleScript and Automator are used for developing macros. If you have a lot of work invested in VBA to automate tasks that you do on a regular basis and can't afford to migrate to AppleScript, you'll want to stay away from Office 2008. Other tools such as Endnote are not currently compatible with this latest version, but a new release will restore compatibility in the future.

As with most Office version changes, there are menu items and commands that have switched places for no discernible reason, and my Font menu no longer showed a WYSIWYG version of each font. I had to dig into Word Help to find out you must enable that feature via the Customize Toolbars and Menus dialog box. My previous versions of Word had that enabled by default so I never discovered that option.

Summary
The Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft has again delivered some compelling new features in Word, the market's dominating word processor. The dilemma that always presents itself when a new version of Office appears is whether the new features are worth the considerable cost to upgrade. In Word 2008, I found the Publication Layout view quite useful, and ironically more intuitive (probably from years of using MS Word) than Apple's Pages. If your business is switching Windows users to Office 2007 and using DOCX formats, it will be essential to you. However, if you have lots of work invested in VBA macros, you'll have to think long and hard before making this switch, as Visual Basic is no longer supported. Many users, however, will welcome the augmented AppleScript capabilities.

Pros

  • Indispensable in many businesses
  • Elements Gallery speeds document formatting and content insertion
  • New Publication Layout view
  • iPhoto integration
  • Excellent Mac OS X look and feel
  • AppleScript implementation for macros

Cons

  • Many users will not need new features
  • Macro system abandons VBA for AppleScript
  • Speed advantage of Universal Binary not immediately apparent


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice