After a nearly four-year wait, Steve Jobs announced at Macworld that Office 2008 for Mac was ready to ship. For Mac users everywhere, this was a sigh of relief. However, Microsoft also announced that there was a bug in Excel that affects Excel 2004 for Mac, and no patch was forthcoming.

But wait, there’s more. Macworld reviewer Rob Griffiths reviewed Excel 2008 for Mac and found it wanting. Instead of increased functionality, he found that he was more limited in what he could do. Furthermore, there is little or no backward compatibility for things like macros created in Excel 2004. They simply don’t work.

From Macworld:

As the review of Word 2008 noted, Excel 2008 doesn’t support Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which is the language used to create and record macros in prior versions of Excel. If you try to open a macro-enabled worksheet, you’ll have two choices: open and remove the macros, or open and leave the macros in place, though they won’t run. (You can also cancel the open request.)

This is the major failing in Excel 2008, and the primary reason many users—myself included—won’t be upgrading. Anyone with a collection of macro-enabled spreadsheets will be forced to replace those macros with AppleScript (where possible), or learn to do without. Users in companies with Windows machines will be affected as well, as Office 2007 still includes VBA, so they may receive worksheets that don’t function as they do on Windows machines.

As a replacement, Microsoft suggests using AppleScript and Automator—and Excel 2008 does include a large AppleScript dictionary. However, this version lacks any ability to record AppleScripts, as Excel 2004 could do with macros, so you’ll have to write everything from scratch.

According to a late-breaking article from MacFixIt, a number of users are also plagued by Word 2008 crashes. What’s the major problem here? By default, Office 2008 deletes your prior installation of Office. Since it is not usable, your only text editor is Text Edit (native to the Mac).

From MacFixIt:

“I installed Microsoft Office:mac 2008 (upgrade) today. Not unexpectedly, by default it deletes the previous installation; in my case, Office 2004. After a standard installation, with no customization, I started Word successfully for the first, and it turned out only, time. I also successfully started Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage. A few moments later, needing to try Word with some real work, I started it up again — no go, it crashed with a “Microsoft Word has encountered a problem and needs to close” message. There’s a checkbox below the apology to ask Word to recover your work and restart. I tried that — also, no go. The error reporting dialog box allows you to tell Microsoft about the problem, so I let it. The data it sends is inscrutable (to me), there were no obvious smoking gun issues I could see. I’m running Mac OS X 10.5.1 on a MacBook Pro Hi-Res with 4GB RAM.”

But the real story is the lack of Exchange Server Support. Entourage, the e-mail client in the Office for Mac Suite, has always been a stand-alone e-mail client, difficult to maintain in mixed Windows/Mac environments with Exchange Server. The biggest advantage that Office 2008 was supposed to deliver was interoperability with Exchange.

From apc:

One of the few exceptions has been that Entourage 2008 now supports the long-overdue ability to send an automated ‘Out of Office’ message (complete with HTML formatting and options for who receives the auto-reply) when used with Exchange 2007.

That’s certainly welcome news, but the overall lack of Exchange-friendly features doesn’t cut much ice with the many companies running an Exchange server, especially those with a large ‘mixed mode’ population of Windows and Mac systems.

If you were looking for new functionality in the new Office, you might be in for a let down. Things have not improved with Mac Office in this release. Maybe this will change after the first SP, but the functionality that Mac users want doesn’t appear to be in the box at this time. However, all is not lost, because iWork is still available for $79.00. The Family Pack is $99.00

As a Mac user, I don’t see any compelling reason to upgrade to Office 2008 for Mac. What would you do?