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Office 365 Personal now available for $7 p/m

Published by on Apr 16th, 2014, No Comments

office365

Microsoft has announced that their leaner version of the subscription based Office 365 is now available for $7 per month or $70 per year.

The new package lets you use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher and Access on one Mac or Windows computer and one tablet. There is also the possibility of mobile access. This comes in the form of Android, iOS and Windows Phone platforms. (more…)

Choosing an Office app for iPad

Published by on Jan 21st, 2013, 7 Comments

The iPad has been taking the enterprise by storm, and it is clear that among many office workers it is quickly becoming the device of choice for taking meeting notes, emailing and keeping up with your calendar. With the average person moving to a more browser centric work style, it is only natural to see that corporate will find tablets more enticing.

But there are a few things that PCs still do better than tablets.  Not everyone agrees that tablets are the future of computicket, but I do particularly like Steve Jobs’s vision for the future of tablets:

“When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that’s what you needed on the farms. Cars became more popular as cities rose, and things like power steering and automatic transmission became popular.”

“PCs are going to be like trucks,” Jobs said. “They are still going to be around.” “only one out of x people will need them.”

One of the key areas where tablets still suffer is with proper Office suites. (more…)

Microsoft Planning Office for iPad

Published by on Nov 30th, 2011, No Comments

The Daily is reporting that Microsoft is readying a version of Office for Apple’s very popular tablet computer. Microsoft has for a long time made Office for Mac, which is very popular with the Mac faithful. Even with the iPad’s limited functionality compared to the PC, the demand for the tablet is incredible. If iPad was considered a laptop computer, Apple would be the number one seller in the US. The iPad has also made significant inroads into enterprise, perhaps more so than any Apple product before it. Now Microsoft cannot stand by and watch this happen.

The iPad already has a few productivity solutions available to it from a variety of developers, the most popular being Apple’s own iWork apps which are going for $10 each. Despite their popularity, people have been clamouring for better file compatibility with an official Office software bundle for the iPad. When Microsoft does roll out Office for iPad, the bigger question would rather be what at price point it will go for. Office is traditionally quite a high priced item, but almost a necessity to many people. If Microsoft can match the $10 per app price, the demand will likely be massive.

Microsoft is no stranger to the Apple iOS platform, they already make a version of OneNote for the iPhone, and they have a few other apps as well. There is one problem though – Apple takes 30% of every app sold in the AppStore. Now will Microsoft be willing to part with this cash? Only time will tell.

Microsoft is not willing to confirm anything, but we reckon it will be a smart move by Microsoft.

Finally, Mac users can change their Outlook: Review of Office for Mac 2011

Published by on Oct 29th, 2010, 6 Comments

For anybody who purchases a new Mac these days the first question they typically ask is – how do I get Office on to this? And the answer has always been pretty disappointing – Office for Mac was available, and it was a horribly stunted version compared to the Windows counterpart. Office for Mac 2008 was a slow, unintuitive mess, especially after Office 2007 gained its Ribbon interface. In fact, I was pretty sure Microsoft was purposefully making the Office for Mac suite a stunted excuse compared to the Windows version. Who knows?

Office 2010 for Windows was released a few months ago and it is a brilliant version – the user interface is great, the built in tools have been improved and the speed has increased a lot, especially with start up with apps. In fact, after using Office 2010 at work, and then using Office for Mac 2008 at home you realize how slow Office for Mac was.

Luckily that changes with Office for Mac 2011. I have been running the Beta version for quite a while and I eventually also got hold of the final version, and clearly Microsoft’s Mac division has been working hard to fix Office. The interface has been made cleaner, more powerful, and they have finally made it up to scratch with the rest of the Mac experience.

The product range has been simplified – especially compared to the Windows SKU’s. There are only two versions available: Home and Student (single user package, R999; three-user family package R1299, and Home and Business (single user package, R2499; licensed for two machines, R2699). Both  versions include Word 2011, Excel 2001 and Powerpoint 2011. But the Home Business version gains Outlook 2011 as well.

Outlook 2011

Outlook 2011 is significant because it replaces Entourage 2008, which was has always been a very poor mail, contacts and calendar app. I cannot even explain to Windows users how bad Entourage was – even trying to import a Outlook PST file was impossible with Entourage. Outlook 2011 is almost identical to Outlook for Windows, but of course uses the Mac user interface guidelines, so if you are a Mac junkie for years you will be happy.

Switching from PC? PST import is finally here.

Talking about PST files – Outlook 2011 does away with the PST archive system which creates one giant file, and instead stores each message, calendar or contact entry into a separate file (you can still import your PST file over from your PC if you would like). This is primarily to make Outlook easier to use with Apple’s Time Machine backup solution. This way only delta changes to your mail needs to backed up, and Spotlight can quickly index and access these files.

Outlook's Threaded Conversation view

Overall it is very similiar to Windows in terms of features, but there are a few new features as well. Do you like the unified inbox on your iPhone? You can do the same in Outlook 2011. All your account’s inboxes can populate one inbox if you prefer. If you Exchange at work, make sure they are running Exchange server 2007, previous versions are not supported. This is not as devastating as it sounds – your Snow Leopard mail account has the same limitation. So if you can access Exchange through Apple Mail on your Mac, you will be fine… (Thats a subtle tip, you might not need the more expensive version of Office for Mac 2011)

Word 2011

One thing that always bothered me about the Word 2008 for Mac was that it’s files was not perfectly compatible with the Windows version, and vice versa. Often I would try to open a report that had a bit of formatting, only to see it not render correctly. Word 2011 also includes some pretty great templates – and they need to, because Apple’s Pages includes very stylish templates, but Office has the big advantage of being able to use a massive online library of available templates.

But perhaps the most significant improvement is the addition of Visual basic macros which is finally coming to Mac. I tried a few more sophisticated documents from my Windows machine and did not have any problems. Of course the security conscious Protected Mode is also carried over from the Windows version.

Word 2011 also gains the collaborative features from Office 2011, but it requires a file to be stored online using Skydrive, but you can also use Sharepoint if you have that available to you. Of course it requires the latest version of Sharepoint, and I was unable to test this functionality. Skydrive based collaborative editing was not perfectly realtime in my experience, but it was still very useful.

Who needs Publisher when Word 2011 does the job?

Word also sports a new Word Publishing Layout tool which gives you precise publishing tools to quickly design and perfect flyers, banners and page layouts. Publishing view also gives and innovative new way of handling the image ordering – using a 3D stack to move around objects.

Word 2011 Full Screen View takes away distractions

A small, but potentially very powerful feature is the full screen writing mode which take away all distractions, and makes you concentrate on just your writing. Great.

Excel 2011

Once again macro support is back, which is such an essential part of Excel, but was somehow ignored in the previous version. I was once again impressed by the range of templates available out of the box – for example the personal finance calculators. I was also surprised to see that conditional formatting is also finally available – for some reason it was skipped in the 2008 version.

At last your conditional formatting can be carried between platforms...

The graphics portion of Excel is also finally up to par with the Windows version – graphs and SmartArt features look very good. Im not going to pretend to be a big Excel user, but I can honestly say it is finally good enough.

Powerpoint

In 2007 when Microsoft debuted its ribbon interface, it was Powerpoint 2007 that got the biggest overhaul. Powerpoint 2010 on Windows improves even further on that by including very decent graphics tools – which does not require you editing an image outside of Powerpoint and then copying the image back.

You can now stay in Powerpoint if you want to do image tweaks

Similiar to Word, Powerpoint gets the new image ordering tool which shows you in 3D the layers used. This will take a lot of frustration out of image rich slides, especially ones using the new animation effects. MS has clearly taken a few tips from Keynote, because they do look fantastic without taking away the attention of your audience.

Office's new image reordering tool takes away the guessing in image rich slides and documents

Powerpoint 2011 gets all these new editing tools – like the super easy to use background remover, but video editing options is not available in Office for Mac. I guess they realize that Mac’s come with Quicktime X or iMovie, which is plenty good enough right? Some people might say that Apple Keynote is still the best presentation software – which might even be true, but which office runs on Apple’s productivity suite? For me the major reason I ignored Keynote was that its export to Powerpoint functionaility was almost consistently useless. I stick to Powerpoint thanks.

Conclusion

Its sometimes difficult to get excited about something like Microsoft Office, but with Office for Mac 2008 Macheads have always felt a bit shortchanged. In fact Office for Mac was such a poor product for me that I used to use VMWare Fusion and then booted into Windows 7 on my Mac when I wanted to do “real work”. Office for Mac 2008 was that bad.

With Office for Mac 2011 things have changed – now Mac users can use Office without any limitations. The apps launch quickly, they are easier to use and they do not feel like immitations of the “real thing”. Perhaps the best part of Office for Mac 2011 is that Mac users can now also use Outlook 2011, which is still the defacto standard in PIM software out there. Sure, Apple’s Mail and iCal apps work well, but Outlook is still a polished, well rounded, integrated application.

If you are not too bothered about Outlook, the other apps are still great value for money if you take the Home and Student edition. If you are an Office for Mac 2008 user I cannot recommend this upgrade enough. You will be surprised at how good Office on the Mac really can be.

Attention Mac heads: Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac is finally here

Published by on Oct 15th, 2010, No Comments

Microsoft has launched its Office for Mac 2011 desktop suite in South Africa, with a strong focus on collaboration and social networking tools that it says will allow users to work with colleagues and friends anywhere, anytime, and across platforms. After more than two years of hard work, Mac users will be happy to hear that Office for Mac 2011, the latest version of the productivity suite, will be in stores in 100 countries including South Africa by the end of October 2010.

The new version of Mac Office – the first major revision for the suite since 2008 – also includes Outlook as its e-mail client for the first time, replacing Entourage for the Apple machines.

Over 1 billion PCs and Macs run Microsoft Office and Office for Mac – making the Office franchise the most used productivity suite worldwide. The latest offering for the Mac builds on Microsoft’s drive towards allowing you to work the way you want, where you want.

Speaking at the launch in Sandton yesterday afternoon, Lance Thorp, Entertainment and Devices Lead, said that more than ever before, Office for Mac 2011 brings the familiar productivity tools and features of Microsoft Office to a suite of applications that work brilliantly on the Mac. “With the many new exciting feature additions and improvements, this version is shaping up to be the best of Office for Mac yet”, said Thorp.

Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 adds rich new features to the familiar Office applications, helping you to manage your home and business the way you want, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Most notably are the improvements to Outlook. Outlook for Mac 2011 lets you see your calendar from within your email, as well as allowing you to read and save related emails in a single thread.

Reliable compatibility with Macs and PCs running Office around the world ensures you have the right tools to create, share and collaborate with virtually anyone, anywhere. The new Office Web Apps let you post, access, edit and share Office documents from where you want with nearly any computer with a browser, allowing you to co-author a document with multiple people in multiple locations.

Messenger for Mac 8 enables you to communicate in real-time with audio and video support, and Remote Desktop for Mac 2 so you can drive your Windows-based PC from your Mac.

In store from 26 October locally, the suite will come in two editions at retail, both available with either a single user license, or a multiple user option – Office for Mac Home and Student 2011 (ERP: R999- R1299) and Office for Mac Home and Business 2011 (ERP: R2499- R2699). For better alignment across platforms, the Office for Mac 2011 pricing and edition options, map closer with Office for the Windows operating system.

Review: Microsoft Office 2010

Published by on May 18th, 2010, 3 Comments

At first glance, Microsoft needs to make a very convincing argument to make people take note of Office 2010. After all, it’s just another release of Office. Just about anyone would agree that Microsoft Office is by far the most feature rich productivity suite out there, but this great advantage also makes it very difficult to sell us a new version of the software.

Over the years Office has become a very mature product which has become the industry standard, but many people still do not go for every new release, especially in enterprise environments. In the case of Office 2007, its biggest downfall was in fact Microsoft Windows Vista, because MS decided to release the two at the same time, which scared off many businesses in droves, which is sad really, because Office 2007 was actually a completely seperate product which had very little to do with Vista. It’s for this very reason that Office 2003 still has a 70% foothold in the enterprise market.

Clearly Microsoft has learned a lesson this time round and kept Office 2010′s launch completely seperate from Windows, but rather launched it with a range of new enterprise level apps, such as SharePoint 2010, SQL Server 2010, and Exchange Server 2010. This is a very significant release, and Microsoft has to be commended for doing a complete productivity software overhaul, from server to desktop. Impressive. But today I am just focussing on Office 2010 (which of course gains a lot of features when combined with these enterprise updates).

Office 2010 contains the traditional apps we expect, like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note and Outlook. In higher end versions a few more apps are included. Like I mentioned before, these apps have become so mature, it would be silly going through every new feature in every app. What is more interesting is how MS has integrated these apps with one another, and enhanced them to compete in this time where everybody is starting to take note of competitors like Google Docs. I will focus on major improvements instead of every small change.

Working Together

One app that can be singled out is Outlook. You know Outlook? That app that most people in corporate environments stare at day in and day out? In Office 2007, Microsoft debuted the Ribbon interface which improved most of the Office apps, but Outlook was left out. It had to stick to the old school File, Edit, View menus. Now Outlook 2010 gets some Ribbon love, and the app is indeed much more intuitive to use.

Where Outlook shines is in its new social features, which are actually very nice to use in practice. The way it works is with the “Social Connector” which is a platform for third party websites and service to write plugins for Outlook which makes the way we interact with contacts a bit more interesting. For example, when conversing with a colleague over email, Outlook can be made aware of his latest status updates on Facebook or LinkedIn (if you prefer to keep “work” social network seperate, but these types of services can run concurrently). This also gives you a profile pic of the person you are talking to, as well as a timeline of communications. Other services include Windows Live, Myspace and also Exchange 2010 (which gives a few more powerful features). The only third party networks who have actually released these plugins already are Linkedin and Myspace, with more to come. I do feel however that Microsoft was trying to mimic some of Xobni‘s features, but I have to agree that Microsoft’s implementation is somewhat better.

In the past few years the holy grail of Office apps were the supposed “working together” feature that no-one really wanted. Now I am not bashing Microsoft here, but I have not really come across a situation where I need to edit a document with someone else concurrently (maybe you know of a situation where it’s needed). But what I can say is that it works beautifully. In a recent Excel demo I saw how well it worked, and then in my own testing it *just worked* through Windows Live’s services.

Powerpoint also gains an interesting new feature to broadcast slides to anyone connected to the internet. Again, though the use of Windows Live or Sharepoint, you send an invite to a recipient which contains a URL (which can be public or private) and from there the person can see the slides being presented live. While you can send this to anyone in the world, I think it might be more handy in meeting environments and classrooms for people who want to read slides right on their machines.

Office Anywhere

Where it becomes even more interesting is through the use of Office Web Apps – Microsoft’s knockout to the Google Docs offering. Instead of a barebones interface like Google Docs, Office Web Apps looks like a near perfect rendering of the actual native Office app. These Web Apps are accessed through Windows Live and also through Facebook (which is still in Beta). In corporate environments, this will be managed through the latest version of Sharepoint server. Now where might you use this? Imagine you need to edit a word document from a computer without Office. Now, as long as it is connected to the internet, you can go ahead and just use the web app version of Office by using your Windows Live login details. Microsoft also made this functionality available to Facebook users, but it is still in an invite only beta at this stage.

Bring Ideas to Life

Office has also improved the multimedia aspects of Office. Most of these enhancements go into Powerpoint. Sometimes small things, like better looking transitions between slides, but also some very handy tools for image editing. I was astonished by how well certain tools work – like removing the background from an image worked almost perfectly, and just required some cropping. Compare this to the process of using something like Photoshop and then exporting the edited file for use in Powerpoint. Screen clipping can also be done by just clicking a button, and selecting the part you want to add to your document or message. Altering colours or contrast work brilliantly, with small previews of how the image might look on every button.

Practical Productivity Platform

One aspect I do appreciate with Office 2010 is the attention they have given to security. Whenever you open a document in Outlook, it will first open that document in sandboxed environment in which editing is also disabled. When you do try to edit the document, it will first make you aware of the security risks. Outlook is also a bit smarter in the way it checks up on mistakes you might make in messages, called Mail Tips. For example, if you send an email to 5 people in your organization and one person outside, it will just remind you of this, in case you are sending confidential information. It will also warn you that you are about to send that report to the entire organization. While it might irritate some people, I am sure it can save your butt at some point. Just maybe. If you are connected to an Exchange server, Outlook will also inform you before you hit send if someone is out of office.  Handy.

Outlook also gains threaded conversation view, which is now set as default. Instead of browsing through hundreds of emails which might contain a lot of replies and re-replies, Outlook groups your messages so that you can keep context of any conversation. Mac has used this in its native Mail app for quite some time, so it’s great that this is now in Office as well. Outlook also gains a new feature called “quick steps” which contextually change as you do different things. For example, it connects to Sharepoint and knows who your team members are, and sets up a quick link to forward something to your team. You can also go create your own multiple “quick steps” in which you specify what a button does.

For people responsible for deployment, Office is much more versatile this time round. One new method I have been testing is “Click to Run” which makes Office run in sandboxed, virtualized environment. This is built on App-V, a new method of virtualizing (almost) any app on top of Windows. This makes it much more versatile in complex machine setups – for example, you might have someone who runs very old macros that are reliant on Office 2003, but they also need Office 2010, without any problems occurring.

Overall I am very happy with Office 2010, and it’s a very tough product to fault. Its almost like they thought of everything. Of course there is always the issue of price, and yes there are free alternatives. But we are talking about the standard here, and something not many people can choose not to run. Office 2010 can be bought in a number of SKU’s. But for the first time they are also selling key-cards, so that you can save money on the initial price, provided you have an internet connection which you are comfortable downloading a large file through (yay for uncapped). You will be able to buy the key cards at computer stores, and then you just take them home and use the product key inside to activate a new licence, and you download the install files. These keycard prices are specifically made for South Africa, and Microsoft actually checks when you download the install files whether you are indeed in South Africa. There exists a few other versions for enterprises rollouts, but here we focus on the consumer versions.

Home & Student:
It will include Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010 and Office Web Apps. What’s significant with this SKU is that the buyer can install it on up to three machines in his home. So you can buy it for Mom, Dad and another machine.
Price: R899 (with install media) R799 (if you download the install files yourself, called the keycard version)

Home & Business:
This version is focussed on people who actually work from home. It includes Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Outlook 2010 and Office Web Apps. This is for a single licence.
Price: R1999 (with install media) or R1899 (keycard version)

Professional:
Here things get pricier. It comes with Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Outlook 2010, Publisher 2010, Access 2010, Office Web Apps and premium technical support. If you do need Publisher and Access, I really recommend you go for the keycard version.
Price: R5199 (with install media) or R3699 (keycard version)

Bizarrely, you might notice is that Microsoft removed upgrade pricing. However, you do save some money going for the keycard versions.

Conclusion:

So should you upgrade? Well, it depends on your situation – if you are stilling running Office 2003, I would really recommend you move to Office 2010. There are too many improvements to count and the increase in efficiency with just dealing with day to day tasks quickly become apparent. You might have held out on the Ribbon interface, but it clearly is the future of Office. Just go for it.

If you are running Office 2007, things become a bit more complicated. True, they function very similiarly, so unless you need very specific new features that only Office 2010 offers, you need evaluate carefully if it’s worth the cost. But if there is one tip I might give you – go take Outlook 2010 for a test drive. Outlook has been improved so much that it might be the very reason you would want to upgrade. Gone are the long loading times and tedious menus. Things happen quickly and the whole application is much easier to use.

Despite the high price, nothing comes close to Office 2010 in terms of ease of use and feature richness.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Pros:
Outlook 2010 is a huge upgrade
Major performance improvements
Good pricing on Home and Student version

Cons:
Professional SKU is very pricey

PS: Microsoft, get cracking on Office 2011 for Mac please. I want the new Outlook on my Mac as well.

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