Don't skip this Office for Mac Home and Business 2011 edition

Erik Eckel looks at the new features of Office for Mac 2011. Not only does Outlook replace Entourage, but other important updates make this suite one you shouldn't pass up.

Windows users' no longer boast the newest Microsoft Office suite. The honor belongs to Mac users, now. Microsoft just released the long-awaited Office for Mac Home and Business 2011 suite. Gone is the temperamental Entourage, replaced instead with what many enterprise Mac administrators have been seeking for a long time: Outlook.

What's included?

Just what's included in Office for Mac Home and Business 2011? While both the Home and Student and Home and Business editions include Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, only the business edition includes Outlook. Further, the business edition provides Mac users with a full year of technical support versus just 90 days for home edition buyers.

What's new?

Microsoft has packed quite a few new features into Office for Mac Home and Business 2011. The most prominent change, of course, is Outlook replacing Entourage in the productivity tool lineup. Outlook for the Mac introduces a single reliable application for collecting e-mail, calendar, contacts, and tasks.

In my experience, many Mac users chose to leverage Mac Mail for mail, offload contacts to Address Book and tap iCal for calendaring. Outlook is likely to provide most enterprise users with a better performing and unified application for all those critical items, while also boasting improved synchronization with back-end Exchange servers.

In addition to including Conversations, which collects longer e-mail threads within a single subject, users can now open others' calendars, import .PST files and leverage Mac OS X's native Time Machine to back up Outlook data.

But new features aren't just limited to Outlook. Office for Mac 2011 includes updated ribbon toolbars and template galleries across the board, as well as new full screen views, Publishing previews, styles interactions, object-reordering windows that better enable managing layers and file sharing to the Web within Word. PowerPoint improvements include better photo editing, the ability to broadcast (or share) slide shows, tweaked Presenter views, and the same layer management and Web-sharing features included in Word.

Excel, meanwhile, includes conditional formatting updates, Sparklines (small charts that exist within a single cell) that assist in spotting trend data, fancier tables, and a bolstered Pivot Table Builder. Excel, too, benefits from the same free cloud-based SkyDrive sharing platform as Word and PowerPoint.

What's it cost?

Microsoft Office for Mac Home and Business 2011 editions that include two licenses retails for $279. Single license versions run $199.

Who should upgrade?

It's common for many organizations to skip a Microsoft Office suite distribution. This is not a suite to skip. With Outlook now native, built-in cloud-based file sharing, small but elegant Excel improvements, time-saving template galleries and productivity-enhancing full screen views, among other improvements, Mac users should find Microsoft's new Office suite a compelling package too good to pass up.