Well, I installed Office 2008 for Mac yesterday, and I’m pretty impressed, all in all.

Entourage was the first thing I gave a romp, and it seems to be a big improvement. It feels a lot more natural than my last, admittely brief, encounter. There are some pretty handy keyboard shortcuts and the modes seem practical enough. There are a couple of shortcuts that hurt my brain and scare me a little, though, too. Namely, these are Cmd-K for check mail (empty trash in Mail.app), and Cmd-Enter to send a message (seems pretty easy to send an incomplete message).

The big keyboard atrocity, however, is that Cmd-Left and Cmd-Right jump words exactly like Opt-Arrows. Home and End go to the beginning and end of the line, so it feels 95% Mac except during the rare task of writing an email. I’m really hoping for a patch for some configuration options.

There are three other annoyances that will probably stop me from running it during the day, though. First, when you have 10 folders in an IMAP server and it checks them all every minute, and goes bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk for every one without new messages, it gets a bit old. Second, when there is new mail in any folder, the new mail sound plays, the dock/switcher icon updates to show an unnumbered envelope, and I haven’t found a way to know which folder it landed in. Third, you can’t specify any other sounds based on rules; so my subtle audio coding based on probable importance doesn’t apply.

Word 2008 is a huge improvement at first pass. I could never get comfortable in 2004, and 2008 seems a bit more responsive, which makes sense, given that it’s a Universal app. It still has the obnoxious behavior of opening and closing the inspector panels because it knows better than I do what I want on the screen, but I guess the long-term Mac-Word users would balk at anything else. Track changes frustrates me the same as always. I don’t really care about the missing VBA stuff. The big thing is that it just feels more native now.

I really do wish it had the ribbon, though. I’ve only thought “wow, that’s refreshing” about a handful of things in the past 5 years – the ribbon was one of them. I know it seems like a love-it/hate-it thing for now, but I think they did a really nice job on representing categories of intent (with relevant actions), and that we’ll see ribbon-style stuff replacing the “pile of icons” toolbar mess that is today’s UI world. Just look at Photoshop or any of the Mac apps with icon-paged inspectors for some UX cousins.

I’ve only just launched Excel – I haven’t tried to accomplish anything in it yet. It does look significantly more usable and readable, though. I hard a very hard time handling Excel 2004; probably the most difficult was the keyboard handling. I just couldn’t wrap my head around Ctrl-U for “Edit Cell Contents”. The general tiny/choppy font was tough, too. I’m holding out hope this time around.

If nothing else, I have iWork ‘08/Mail.app and NeoOffice/Thunderbird to round out the options. :)

As a last thought, when I started typing this, the light went on as to why Firefox looked a little different – and, honestly, a lot better – in the past day or two. Georgia is a pretty nice font compared to the stock replacement in It seems like Verdana and maybe a couple of others got upgrades, too. It’s almost as clean as Safari now.

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05 March 2008