Office 2016 for Mac Preview

Mac users, it has been a long time coming but Office for Mac is finally getting an overhaul. Arguably it’s needed that overhaul since Office 2011 was released. I know I hated it with a passion, and so did many others including NY Post tech columnist David Pogue. His October 2010 review of Office 2011 was titled “Office for Mac isn’t an Improvement“. The best word I could come up with for it was “kludgey”. There were file compatibility issues, user interface issues, and performance issues. Oh goodness, there were performance issues.

Getting Outlook 2011 to work quickly and consistently with an Exchange server was something akin to voodoo. I won’t speak of the horrible arcane acts that may or may not have occurred to win the favor of the dark gods that preside over proper integration of Office 2011 and Exchange Server 2013. I might be taking my loathing for the 2011 incarnation a bit far, but I don’t think so. It was just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad office suite.

Using Office 2011 on my Macbook (which was my daily use machine from 2011 to 2013) actually was one of only two things that made me install Windows 7 on the Mac; the other being a lack of Remote Desktop Gateway compatibility in the Microsoft RDP client, nice job on that one too, Microsoft.

But enough about the past. I think I’ve set the stage for anyone not intimately familiar with the atrocity that was the 2011 incarnation. You, however, are here to find out about the oft wished for, oft doubted successor to the pile of <expletive deleted> that was 2011: Office Mac 2016.

First a little about my test system. I am using an older Mac – a Mid-2009 13″ Macbook Pro (MB990LL/A) with a 2.26 Ghz Core2Duo and 4GB of DDR3 1333Mhz memory. This machine is running Yosemite 10.10.2 and while at this point it’s a little long in the tooth, it should handle an office suite without issue. Right? Here’s hoping.

The download for the Office 2016 preview can be found on Microsoft’s Office Site here. It weighs in at 2.5 GB and requires 5.62 GB of space for the full install – this is not a lightweight program.

Installation

Okay, so it’s time to embark on our maiden voyage into the unknown and possibly painful future with Office 2016.

Installation was quite painless and didn’t prompt me to login to a Live account or anything. I count that as a win, as I prefer to have options, not features crammed down my throat. Signing into OneDrive is, by the way, an option.

The first notable thing about installing Office 2016 vs 2011 is that whereas Office 2011 would slap those gaudy icons into the Dock for you in a “you’ll have them and you’ll like them” sort of way, Office 2016 behaves like all other OS X applications and installs quietly into the Applications folder. That was a subtle and welcomed move.

Office 2016 Installed
Well hello there, nice to not see you on the Dock!

From here I proceeded to launch Word for the first time. So I clicked and waited and waited aaaaaaaaand waited. I actually checked Activity Monitor to be sure it hadn’t hung, because there was no visual indication that the program was actually launching. Around 35 seconds later it popped up, looking nice as you please, with the familiar Template Selection screen.

Office 2016 Word Launch

At ~35 seconds I wasn’t impressed with the speed, but I knew this machine was pretty underpowered going into this and hoped for better on the second launch, figuring that the initial launch was probably doing post install… uh… stuff . I was not disappointed and the 2nd launch happened in about 15 seconds, which still feels like an eternity, but I’m guessing that on a new i5 or i7-based Mac that has an SSD it’s going to launch in around 1 to 3 seconds which is very reasonable.

Okay enough about how much my test Mac sucks, onward!

User Interface

I selected “Blank Document” and was pleasantly surprised by what happened next. I recognized the interface! Madness! Madness!?!? This is Sparta…erm……Office 2013 dangit… OFFICE 2016!! Okay, but seriously – the interface is pretty much Identical to my Office 2013 installation on my Windows machine, which is a very welcome development indeed.

I then fired up Excel 2016 and was pleased to see that this held true there as well. PowerPoint, pretty much the same familiar interface with the slight difference in Apple font selection. This was beginning to become a trend and I like this kind of trend!

Launching OneNote I was greeted by a slightly new experience and I’ve got to hand it to the team that worked on Office this time around – the “Welcome to OneNote” for OS X is actually superior to the PC version, in my opinion.

That’s actually a very slick way of introducing the product to the unfamiliar with it, which Mac users are more likely to be than PC users, as it wasn’t included in Office 2011 for Mac. (Though it is a free download from Microsoft via the App Store: Link)

So the interface of Office 2016 for Mac is slick and (once loaded into memory on my sluggish Mac) really snappy, which is a big relief after using the previous incarnation.

Let’s be honest though, these are not what I’ve really been interested in. The big question from the get-go for me was, “How good is Outlook?”. So… how good is Outlook?

How good is Outlook 2016 for Mac?

It’s pretty freakin’ good!

Auto discovery of my account settings (we use O365 for work) went flawlessly and once I accepted the redirect for the autodiscover URL I had a working email account. One of the biggest issues I historically had with Outlook 2011 was slow synchronization with the Exchange server. When it did actually manage to connect successfully, messages would often just sort of trickle in and out for some reason. It’s not that it wasn’t sending and receiving – it just didn’t do it quickly. That issue, whatever it was, is gone for me with Office 2016 Outlook – much to my relief!

Additionally, the advanced search features that Outlook 2013 brought to PC are here for Mac as well and the search actually seemed faster on my old dogged Mac than on my new i5 PC in my completely unscientific testing. It searched for all emails from a certain sender in around 2 seconds on the Mac and ~3 seconds on my PC – so they did something to tweak the performance of the built-in search and whatever it is, it’s good.

So far I have nothing but good things to say about Outlook in Office 2016 – which I did not see coming! I was hopeful, but not entirely convinced it was going to happen. I’m very glad it did!

There’s really only one item left that I care about let me just fire it up… hey wait a second…

Where’s Lync 2016?

So my other big issue with Office 2011 was Lync. It was like the proverbial red-headed step-child of Office 2011. Conversation history didn’t get added to the proper Outlook folder (a feature I use a lot, but never realized until it didn’t work in Office 2011), it was sluggish, disconnected from O365 entirely too often and just generally sucked, to be frank.

I was really looking forward to testing Lync 2016 / Outlook 2016 integration and the general day to day use of the new version of Lync – but sadly it’s not here. Not that there was anything in particular that made me think it would be included, as it was a separate download for Office 2011 and likely will be for Office 2016, as well; it was just a nice thought.

Still I’m not counting this as a negative for this release. Office 2016 is thus far greatly surpassing my expectations and is a completely serviceable replacement for Office 2013 on PC. I’ll be interested to see if there will be CRM 2015 plugin for Outlook 2016 – I’m really hoping so!

The last word.

All things considered, I am pretty blown away by just how good Office 2016 for Mac is. When you go in with low expectations and the Office Team delivers not just a good product, but arguably a great one, that’s bound to happen.

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