The new Microsoft Office 2016 preview is the sequel Mac users have waited 4 long years for. While Windows users have enjoyed Office 2013 and its sequels for years now, we’ve had to settle for the decidedly sub par Office 2011. Microsoft’s aging OS X suite was made for another time and is definitely out-of-place on Yosemite against modern competitors like Pages.
As part of its new era of transparency and reduced Microsoft-ness, Redmond is letting anyone beta test the newest version of Office for Mac. We took it for a test run to see how it holds up.
Across the board, Office 2016 shows a lot of improvements. Everything has been redesigned and runs a lot faster than before. Unfortunately, it does not run lighter. Office 2016 programs chugged battery in every case.
Microsoft will likely work this out as we get closer to an official release, but it’s something beta adopters should keep in mind. My MacBook Air got noticeably hotter running Word and Excel simultaneously.
As a writer, Word is always my most-used program. While clunky and over-featured compared to other editors like Pages and Byword, Word is the standard for office work everywhere.
Word finally looks like a proper Yosemite app, with flat design and the traffic-light buttons that flip it in and out of full screen with ease.
The text and interface look great, even on my Air’s non-Retina display. Microsoft did a lot better in making an app that’s not a horrific eyesore to use like Office 2011 was.
However, Microsoft still has ways to go. Word still does not use the standard text-editing shortcuts in OS X. Cmd-Delete deletes the last word, not the last line like in every other Mac app.
Opt-Delete gets rid of the last word like it should, but I can’t figure out when it does and doesn’t leave a preceding space.
Cmd-Up and -Down do the same thing as Opt-Up and -Down instead of taking you to the start and end of the document.
These missing shortcuts are mapped to the home and end keys, which MacBook laptops do not have. There is also no option to record new macros.
Apart from making me dig through the settings to set proper macros, the new version of Word is a lot better to use. I like the auto-saving to the cloud and instant integration with OneDrive. It’s a good way to write across platforms with a tool that has a few more features than Google Docs.
Speaking of which, Google Docs may be Word’s strongest competitor. While Word is a necessity for heavy word processing, anyone who needs to just put words on a page can get by easier with Google’s solution.
I’ve never been a heavy Excel user, so I’ll leave the deeper performance judgments to the experts.
On a surface level, Excel has been Yosemite-d in the same way as Word. Old blocky interfaces have given way to flat, white sections and something that actually looks like it belongs on a modern Mac.
Other writers have reported some crashes, but that’s beta software for you. Microsoft seems to be on top of it, though, even to the point of taking bug reports from Ars Technica’s comment section.
OneNote is the only app in the Office preview that’s actually been released already. You can download OneNote through the App Store, though the preview installer bundles it with the rest of Office as well.
OneNote is a powerful, fast note-taking application that saves your data through Microsoft’s cloud across Android, iOS, OS X and Windows. It’s highly versatile, which is appreciated.
As far as note-taking apps go, OneNote is a great app for power users. It doesn’t have the obsessive taggability of Evernote, but movable text, pages, and hierarchical organization make it a good option.
Interestingly, OneNote’s Opt-Delete command does leave a space, unlike Word. It does not support Cmd-Delete either, leaving it inconsistent with Word and other Office apps.
I know I nitpick this stuff, but those shortcuts are the bread-and-butter of any writer who uses a Mac for long enough. It’s even more important in OneNote because there are no macros or options to change the shortcuts.
Out of all the apps I tested, Outlook had the most bugs. The Preferences menu disappeared at one point and showed a blank title bar (though everything was still clickable). After that, every window top and the inbox in Outlook went blank. Beta software, everyone.
Other than some major problems with vanishing parts of the UI, Outlook is the same power program as ever. It’s the most complex and useful email client, especially for corporate types in an Office-only environment where “Gmail” is a dirty word.
PowerPoint also looked good. The interface has been simplified some, always a welcome sign in a Microsoft program. Everything still seems to work fine. I never used much PowerPoint, so I’ll leave it at saying PowerPoint was just as power-hungry as the other beta apps.
Office for Mac 2016 is exactly the beta we expected. It’s a faster, better Office that still needs some time in development. If I can find a program-breaking bug in Outlook in less than 30 seconds, it needs more work.
The programs also need to be more power-efficient across the board. Every Office program became the most power-hungry the moment it started. I could feel the keys on my keyboard heat up from opening Office.
Still, it’s beta software, and Microsoft is on the ball by picking up bug reports as fast as it can. Office for Mac 2016 will be great… when it’s done.