If you've ever attended school or held a job, you're probably well familiar with Microsoft Office, whether you used it or not. It's the most popular office suite available, and has been for some time. Apple does have its own suite of productivity apps (iWork), but Microsoft Office has always been the industry leader for word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
While Office was originally designed for Windows computers, Microsoft has continued to make special Mac versions of the suite, with its last one being Office 2011 for Mac. Now the company is set to release its 2016 version of Office for Mac later this summer, but Mac users can gain access to the public preview of it right now.
To get the Office for Mac 2016 Preview, go to products.office.com/mac and select "Download Now." It'll take up a little over 5 GB of space, so make sure you have enough room on your computer. You also need to be running Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite. Once installed, the five applications (Excel, Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Outlook) will be added to your computer.
If you have an older version of Microsoft Office, the new download will not overwrite any of those applications. As you can see in the screenshot above, my 2011 version is unharmed and ready for use.
The first thing you'll notice are the revamped icons, which look a lot better than their 2011 counterparts. The new versions are clean and lose the "cool" shaped emphasis of the previous suite.
You should also notice that all of the apps have a cleaner feel and better align with its Windows counterpart while still maintaining an "Apple" look. Here is Kirk Koenigsbauer, Corporate Vice President for the Office 365 Client Apps and Services team, on these changes:
Office 2016 for Mac shares an unmistakably Office experience—but it is also thoughtfully designed to take advantage of the unique features of the Mac. The new apps offer full retina display support with thousands of retina-optimized graphics, full screen view for native immersive experiences, and even little Mac affordances like scroll bounce.
Office for Mac 2016 is very cloud-oriented, to be more like Office 365, and to let users of OneDrive, OneDrive Business, and SharePoint access their work from multiple devices and locations.
The apps are also integrated with iCloud, making updates, changes, and files available on iCloud-connected devices. We'll have to stay tuned to see exactly how that would work in conjunction with Microsoft's own Office 365 service.
Besides cosmetic changes and cloud support, there are some decent additions to all of the major apps.
One of the most popular applications of the bunch, Microsoft Word got a few new additions focused on making collaboration much easier while smoothing out the entire editing and formatting experience. You'll notice the new look immediately with the new Document Gallery.
Once inside a document, you will see that Microsoft changed the Ribbon to be more consistent across all platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac). The Ribbon also has new additions, like a Design and Mailings sections, and features a number of new or refined task panes.
The most significant changes deal with collaboration and making it easier for people to work together on a document. You can now easily invite other members to a document with a new "Add" icon. Collaborators can now view threaded comments, receive editorial feedback in real-time, and get notified when new updates to a document have been made.
The new Word doesn't break away from previous iterations, but improves where it needed to, and adds detailed design enhancements for an overall improved look.
Note: Password-protecting documents in Word for Mac 2016 has changed a little bit compared to its 2011 counterpart. Excel and PowerPoint are still pretty much the same. More details here.
"Why would I ever use Excel on a Mac?" is a common rebuttal for folks that stick to Windows because they couldn't survive without the Windows version of Excel, mostly because the shortcuts and tricks they memorized were different on a Mac.
Excel for Mac 2016 recognizes most of the Windows shortcuts while still retaining the Mac shortcuts, making it easy for people to switch between operating systems.
Excel also added Slicers, improved printing options, autocomplete, and much more. If you were an Excel power-user, these new features should make Excel on Mac much more appealing than its predecessor.
PowerPoint also got a much needed revamp to its presentation templates, added new transitions, and improved its collaboration tools.
Microsoft is most excited about the addition of Presenter View, which provides the presenter an all-access view of the presentation while showing viewers only the slides.
"Presenter View is like mission control for your presentation—displaying the current slide, the next slide, notes and a timer on your Mac, while projecting only the presentation to your audience on the big screen."
OneNote and Outlook are not new to Macs, but this is the first time they have both been included in the Office suite of apps.
Outlook, the email service, and OneNote, the digital note-taking app, are both free during the Preview period. Outlook, however, has been tied into an Office 365 subscription, so while it's free for now, you will most likely need to pay after the preview period is over and the final product is released. OneNote should remain free, but you will need a SharePoint account to access your notes on various devices.
This is a great time to try out the new versions of the Microsoft apps and see if it's worth upgrading or buying it for the first time. These apps are all still in beta, so there may be some bugs, and Microsoft has included a tool for you to report those bugs. In each application, there is a smiley face above the toolbar—click on it to leave feedback for their review.
Each preview evolves in 60-day cycles and will update automatically. The previews will continue to work on your device until the final version is released to the public and the previews will no longer be supported.