An upgrade of Microsoft Office 98 has been a long time coming for Macintosh users. Until now, Microsoft had left the Macintosh user languishing in the dark ages when it came to its popular software suite. This has had a debilitating effect on the Macintosh in corporate America, as it fell hopelessly behind the upgraded Windows version of Office.
Well, fret no more, Macintosh users: Feast your eyes on a well-rounded Office suite made just for you.
Office 98 Macintosh Edition includes major revamps of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and includes extras like Internet Explorer 4.0 for browsing the Web and Outlook Express for Mac, Microsoft's newsgroup reader and e-mail client. To take advantage of all Office 98 has to offer, your Macintosh will need to be equipped with a PowerPC processor--which means those older Macs won't be making the upgrade.
The installation process is a breeze. Forget all the prompts you get when installing a Windows program. With Office 98 for the Mac, you just drag and drop the appropriate folder onto your hard drive and watch the files quickly copy from the CD. It took me about a minute to do the full transfer of the core products--Word, Excel and PowerPoint. That's fairly amazing considering they take up 90MB of hard-drive space. If you want to install any of the other extras (and there are lots of them), you'll have to run an installer. But the nice part is, you don't have to clutter your hard drive with features you may never use. Instead, Office allows you to select only those you want. There's also a custom installer for loading the three core products, giving advanced users the ability to pick and choose only the files they need.
Cassandra Cavanah is a contributing editor of Portable Computing Direct Shopper magazine and has reported on the computer industry for nine years.
Microsoft has made a big effort to make the Macintosh edition as powerful and easy to use as Office 97 for Windows, something past versions failed to do. And the company hasn't merely retooled the Windows version to force it to fit on a Macintosh. Instead, it took pains to make Office 98 as Mac-friendly as possible. This is reflected in standard Macintosh functions like drag-and-drop, giving users the ability to easily share information across applications. For example, a Microsoft Excel 98 spreadsheet can be dropped from the desktop into another application that supports drag-and-drop. Office 98 also supports common Macintosh e-mail clients, such as Outlook Express, Exchange and Eudora Pro. And the interface and dialogue boxes are designed to be consistent with the appearance of other Macintosh applications.
If you're familiar with Office 97 for Windows, then you're sure to see some major similarities in the new Macintosh version. For example, this version includes Microsoft's Office Assistant, an animated character that offers context-sensitive tips and friendly advice for the novice user. Although it may be overkill for pros, Office Assistant is great for getting acquainted with all the new functions of this program, and it also offers tips even advanced users may not be aware of. If Office Assistant doesn't have the answers you're looking for, you can easily access the extensive help program or get help online.
What You Get
Word 98 alone has tons of features that will enhance your productivity. One of my favorites is the editing aids. Possible misspelled words are flagged with a red, squiggly underline so you never forget to double-check spelling. There's a grammar checker that proofreads documents; URLs and e-mail addresses can be converted to hyperlinks; and an AutoFormat function automatically creates numbered or bulleted lists. There's a Document Map that splits the screen to display an easy-to-navigate outline of your document--great for lengthy jobs, such as reports, books and proposals. And the list of convenient features goes on and on.
Similarly, Excel 98 has been modified so it's easier to use, taking much of the mystery out of spreadsheet formatting and formula-making. There's a Formula AutoCorrect option that helps users write equations by correcting 15 of the most common formula-building errors. And writing formulas is more intuitive with the option of replacing cell references with column and row headings (for example, Price*Quantity rather than A1*A2).
Chart and layout functionality have also been improved in Excel 98, as has the shared workbook feature, which makes using Excel in a workgroup easier than ever. Multiple users can collaborate on a spreadsheet, and changes can be tracked by users. If you're not networked with a user you want to share a workbook with, there's the new ability to merge workbooks--consolidating changes made to multiple copies of the same workbook. That means you can e-mail a file to someone, have that person make changes and e-mail it back, then merge the changes into the original document.
PowerPoint incorporates a lot of the improvements found in Word, such as underlining misspelled words and suggesting corrections. There's also the AutoContent Wizard to help users get started laying out a presentation. And PowerPoint's new custom show feature tailors slides to specific audiences but saves each version within one file. Hyperlink support makes incorporating links to intranet and Internet pages possible. And for long-distance slide shows, PowerPoint files can be saved as HTML for sharing presentations over the Web.
Microsoft serves up two essential Internet programs with Office 98 Macintosh Edition: Internet Explorer 4.0 and Outlook Express. This version of Explorer is an upgrade to Microsoft's popular browser software. Not only does it contain features found in the Windows version, but it has been designed with the Macintosh in mind. Outlook Express is a completely new e-mail client for the Mac. A simple program without a lot of bells and whistles, it definitely fills the bill for most users' basic e-mail needs.
Also included with Office 98 is a folder full of extras. For example, you can add Microsoft Movie for augmenting presentations with a QuickTime movie, or you can choose one of the different Office Assistants to help you in your daily work. There are also additional fonts, clip art, tools and templates. It's a fun folder to rummage through once you're up to speed on Office's functions.
Even though I reviewed a beta version of Office 98, I only experienced one minor glitch--trying to open a document on the desktop froze the system. This could have been caused by a conflict in my system or a bug within Office 98 that will be addressed in the final version of the product.
I am certain Mac users, especially those who have suffered with an outdated version of Office, will be thrilled with Office 98 and its functionality. It's an upgrade well worth committing to.