Review: Office 2008 for OS X: Word 2008

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So here we are faced with another version of Microsoft’s behemoth and I’m not terribly excited. I’ve been using Microsoft products since Works, back in the day, and I’ve got to say that with the slow and steady rise of web-based editors and programs with better workflow and features — some aimed at long form writers rather than “office workers” — have slowly replaced my Microsoft Office mindshare. Heck, even newcomer Pixelmator turned me off of that old standard, Photoshop, so maybe I was just ready for some change.

Given my current “Meh” attitude in regards to Office, I wanted to give Word 2008 a quick look and asses its various merits over 2004 and, as I did with Pages, decide if I should switch — or, rather, stay.
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Word 2008 borrows liberally from Word 2007 for Windows yet interestingly avoids the “ribbon” UI, maintaining the top menu bar rather than a set of tabs along the top. More importantly, the Office icon doesn’t hang out in the top left corner, either, reducing visual clutter. The task bar is about the same but the icons are much larger and easier to hit.
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But wait — bigger icons? That’s it? Well, Word has a number of templating features that were once relegated to the “new file” interface in Word 2004. For example, you can dump in canned title pages and charts just by hitting one of the pre-made templates under the tool bar. And for another example, you can create a quick table or chart, complete with shading, in seconds. Great for making reports, not so good if you’re writing blog posts or a short story based on your experience in Prague last summer where you totally got drunk every night and were way into gypsies.

So Word 2008 is a nice improvement, especially for office users. It is aimed squarely at the work environment and just barely infringes on the things iWork has been doing for years, namely making it easy to create interesting content with templates. However, as I’ve described, the tools in Word 2008 will soon grace a TPS report near you. It probably won’t grace your next novel.

Because this is not a corporate IT blog, I’m hard pressed to get into the Automator improvements or the Entourage interaction. I will review Entourage in good time, but I would say 90% of us are going to use Word to write the occasional resume or longer office document. The new version seems snappier than the old version, which isn’t much help, but other than standard UI changes I can’t really see many major differences. Unfortunately, OS X already comes with a number of useful applications for handling contacts and email and when, really, is the last time you needed to do a Mail Merge? Whereas I was pleased by the improvements in Word 2007 for Vista, I’m nonplussed by this version.

Incidentally, I’ve been using Scriviner for longer writing and TextEdit for blog posts. I use Word for one simple reason — the “Send To…” feature. I know it’s silly, but I love being able to write a piece for the Times or whatever and click send to. Pages doesn’t have that. Call me a freak if you’d like, but that’s really the only reason.

So, in conclusion, upgrade if you’re in an office — after all, it is called Office 2008. If you’re at home, use Google Docs, OpenOffice, Pages or anything else — Word 2008 is officially overkill.

I will attempt to review each application on its own in series. Next: Excel 2008! You know, for spreadsheets.

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