Yesterday afternoon I received and installed the newest version of Microsoft Office for the Mac. Since the last version was Office 2004 and this one is Office 2008, you can obviously see that a lot of time has passed between updates. Once installed everything has gone along fine. The interface is a little different as would be expected, but nowhere near as confusing as the new ribbon interface in Office 2007 for Windows. I have used the new Windows version and simply hate it. I can’t find anything. Maybe I would like it if I used it more often, but luckily I don’t have to.
Back to the Mac side… The two biggest changes that I have encountered so far are the file formats and Exchange integration. Office 2008 uses the new Microsoft Office file formats to store documents. You can recognize these easily because they end in an “x”, for example “.docx” and .”xlsx”. I work in an environment where most people have not migrated to a newer version of Office, so I went into preferences and set my default file save format to the older format.
More important for me is the closer ties Entourage has with Microsoft Exchange. I can finally use Entourage to easily check the free time and availability of other user. This has been something that Outlook users have long been able to do, but Entourage users could not. Whenever I needed to schedule a large meeting and wanted to find the most acceptable time to all, I would have to find a Windows machine and use Outlook. But no more! I can finally do this directly in Entourage.
But, what Microsoft giveth they also taketh away. Yes, the new version of Office has lost the ability to run the VB macros that many companies have created in their documents. So now when I go to fill out my expense report I am going to have to do the final printing on a Windows machine. Or I am going to have to create new version of the form for the new Mac version of Office. What a pain. Luckily I only have a few forms with macros. Other companies that have a lot of those automated forms are going to have a real problem.
As I said, I only installed this upgrade yesterday so I haven’t gotten a chance to run all the applications through their paces. My initial impression though is that if you don’t need the VB macros and your organization does use Exchange, then this is an excellent upgrade. If you use VB macros though, or if you don’t need the Exchange features, then there truthfully may be no reason to switch and in fact there may be compelling reasons not to. You may also want to check out this video review of Office 2008 from the people at The Unofficial Apple Weblog.
On a side note, as I performed the Office install, I notices that my hard drive had a lot less space available than I thought it should. Since the cause wasn’t immeadiatly obvious, I resorted to a great tool that has been a good friend – OmniDiskSweeper from The Omni Group. These are the same people who make such programs as OmniGrapher (for flow charts and such) and OmniOutliner. OmniDiskSweeper basically searches your entire hard drive and then gives you a tree view of it all sorted by size. Looking at this I was able to quickly find some old files, backups, and such that I didn’t need anymore and that were taking up over 30 gig of file space. Freeing up 30 gig of my drive is what I call an immediate return on investment – especially since it is free software. You can pay for a version that lets you delete files directly, but I just use the free version and use Finder to delete the files.
Update: There does seem to be a problem with the installation of Office 2008. It would seem that the Office installer incorrectly sets some permissions on files, allowing a second local user on your Mac, i.e. a user other than the admin user installing the software, to modify the Office apps and some supporting libraries. This, of course, is not a good thing but the Mac Business Unit has posted instructions on their blog to fix this via some Terminal commands. They also promise that an update to Office soon for those who don’t want to muck around in the terminal.