First look: Office 2016 for the Mac closes the gap

After a five-year hiatus, Microsoft finally brings a worthwhile Office to the Mac

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Excel 2016 for the Mac

Of great interest to those who switch between Office 2013 for Windows and Office 2016 for Mac, the new Excel 2016 now recognizes many of the keyboard shortcuts that have long worked with Excel 2013. For example, Control-C now copies, as does the traditional OS X Command-C.

Many people don’t realize that you can easily enable the nascent F keys in Excel 2016 (and for all Apple apps, for that matter, including the other Office apps) so that you don’t need to push the Fn key. From the Apple menu in the upper-left corner, choose System Preferences followed by Keyboard, then check the box marked Use All F1, F2, Etc. Keys as Standard Function Keys. I find the F2 key in Excel, which shows cell dependencies, to be invaluable.

Excel 2016 for Mac will directly save as PDF. There’s an Excel 2013-quality Formula Builder, and autocomplete finally catches up with Excel 2013 for Windows. Microsoft also touts a new Analysis ToolPak for statistical functions and new data filter buttons (aka slicers) to help you filter data in a pivot table.

Excel 2016 for Mac will build pivot tables, but not pivot charts, and Power Pivot is still absent. There’s no Quick Analysis or Find All -- and no UTF-8 support for those who have to deal with extended character sets. Although it appears as if macros will be supported in the final version, at this point the Visual Basic Editor does not work properly.

Office 2016 for Mac is a 32-bit program, and it runs in OS X’s 32-bit compatibility mode. That shortfall is most visible in Excel 2016, where opening and working with huge spreadsheets -- particularly those larger than 3.5GB or so -- can take forever, as Excel bumps up against the structural 32-bit memory limitations. The fact that Excel 2016 for Mac remains resolutely single-threaded doesn’t help.

PowerPoint 2016 for Mac

PowerPoint for Mac has a new Presenter View (click Slide Show, then Presenter View) that shows notes on one monitor and the presentation on another. It’s very similar to the Presenter View in PowerPoint 2013 for Windows or, if you have a corporate Office 365 subscription, in PowerPoint for iOS. 

Microsoft has endowed PowerPoint 2016 for Mac with the transitions and animation overview capabilities found in PowerPoint 2013 for Windows. PowerPoint 2016 for Mac also supports the same “double save” collaboration feature in Word 2016 and Excel 2016 for Mac mentioned earlier.

Office for Mac lives!

After five years of neglect, it’s gratifying to see Office for Mac getting much-needed attention from Microsoft. The new Office 2016 for Mac proves that Microsoft is serious about bringing fully functional versions of Office to all popular platforms: mobile first, cloud first, Windows whenever. You no longer need to run Windows to get a decent version of Office.

Will Office 2016 for Mac be the “best” office productivity app for the platform? That remains to be seen. Apple’s iWork, especially Keynote, certainly has its high points. At the very least, it has become clear that Mac users can stick with Office and no longer fear they’re falling way behind the mark. That’s good for businesses committed to the Microsoft ecosystem and comforting for people who don’t want to learn 10 different ways to thread the same needle.

This story, "First look: Office 2016 for the Mac closes the gap" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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