Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac vs Office 2016 for Mac

Office 2016 for Mac
What do you gain with Office 2016 for the Mac, and perhaps more importantly, what do you lose? (Image credit: Future)
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Office 2016 for Mac

(Image credit: Future)

The new version of Office for Mac (opens in new tab) is here – at least, if you're an Office 365 (opens in new tab) subscriber – but if you're thinking of upgrading, you'll want to know what's changed compared to the last major version. They look completely different from the outside, but the changes aren't purely cosmetic. The question is, do you need the extra functionality? And, importantly, what's been taken away? Click on through our slideshow and let TechRadar be your guide.

Across the suite

Office 2016 for Mac

(Image credit: Future)

Looking over the entire suite, the most obvious difference with this new version of Office, if you've been used to the 2011 edition, is the new interface design. Even Office 2011 supported Retina displays, but the entire interface in 2016 has been dramatically modernised – it no longer feels dated on a modern Mac system, and the (optional) coloured toolbars help orientate you in the suite. While this will look familiar to Windows users, it's a thoroughly Mac aesthetic.

The Ribbon that runs across the top of windows has been slightly reorganised, making it more consistent with Office 2013 on Windows – see the image above for a comparative shot of the Ribbon on Mac, Windows and iPad. This might mean a bit of relearning for Mac users, but the groupings, such as the new Design tab in Word, do make sense.

There's finally support for some now quite longstanding OS-level features, such as multi-touch gestures for zooming, and native full-screen mode.

Microsoft's equivalent of iCloud Drive, OneDrive, is now baked in – so you can toggle (a little inelegantly) between the standard OS Open/Save dialogue box and one focused on your cloud documents – and it's through OneDrive online that you can access previous versions of files.

OneDrive also helps power collaboration – documents all have a handy share button at the top right – letting you share documents with others for them to view or edit. However, as we observed in our full review (opens in new tab), the collaboration behaviour is inconsistent. Note, though, that the option in Office 2011 to broadcast a PowerPoint presentation online is gone.


Office 2016 for Mac

(Image credit: Future)

Probably the most welcome new feature in Word, especially for those in corporate environments, is support for threaded comments, so that when you're inviting feedback on a document, conversations about a change can all be held together and thus be easier to parse.

You might have seen Microsoft trumpet the new Smart Lookup feature, which pulls definitions and internet search results into a pane in the document, but it's not substantially different to the feature that lived in the floating toolbox in 2011.

We were initially hugely disappointed that the useful notebook view from Word – which let you record, say, a meeting or lecture while taking notes, and which time-stamped each line with the audio so you could quickly jump to a part of the recording just by clicking next to the relevant note – is missing in Office 2016, but actually that ability is still there; it's just now in OneNote, not Word.


Office 2016 for Mac

(Image credit: Future)

Excel is the most obviously updated app in the suite, with plenty of additions to help buoy its high-end credentials and make it easier for Mac users in an organisation to create, edit and even simply open complex spreadsheets.

PivotTable Slicers make it easier to filter the data in spreadsheets so you can pick out important trends or data points, and the optional Analysis Toolpak add-on is there for performing complex engineering or statistical analysis.

What's more, the equation editor, formula builder and improved autocomplete make it easier to act on your data, and the recommended charts feature helps make sense of it in sympathetic and sensible ways.

However, although cross-platform compatibility and feature parity has been improved, in some advanced and rare cases some functions from Office 2013 for Windows spreadsheets might still not be supported on the Mac, which is annoying.


Office 2016 for Mac

(Image credit: Future)

The most apparent new change in PowerPoint, other than the refreshed interface, is the inclusion of 23 smart, less comically corporate templates. What's more, combined with clever variants and colour themes, there are actually many more options – and they hang together well in terms of the visuals.

PowerPoint gets threaded comments for document reviewing as well, like Word, and an improved conflict resolution view makes it easier to compare differences between versions.

The Presenter View – showing you, say, next and current slides as well as a timer and notes on your laptop screen, while an external display shows just the presentation – is better; if nothing else, the one button to let you quickly switch the displays is a boon.

Sharing presentations between Mac and Windows should be smoother too, since Office 2016 for Mac now supports the transitions from Office 2013 on Windows.

The option of saving a presentation as a movie is gone, irritatingly, which, in combination with the dropping of the broadcast feature, serves to break some useful ways of sharing presentations with a wider audience. Publishing via OneDrive, presumably, is Microsoft's answer, though it's not quite the same.


Office 2016 for Mac

(Image credit: Future)

Office 2016 for Mac adds some small but useful features to Outlook. Some sound like very minor tweaks indeed, such as the ability to sync Category lists, but they could have a significant positive effect on your productivity.

If you use an Exchange server, you can now propose an alternative time when someone invites you to a meeting, and this new version of Outlook supports the Clutter (opens in new tab) and Online Archive features.

Indeed, many of these small but welcome improvements to Outlook have been applied to its Calendar module, including the option of viewing calendars side-by-side, and the inclusion of weather forecasts.

Our favourite feature, though, is an option in Preferences to automatically define a different signature for new emails as for replies, something that will help balance 'letting people know your details' with keeping long threads vaguely manageable and bloat-free.


Office 2016 for Mac

(Image credit: Future)

This is the first time the OneNote notebook app has joined the suite on the Mac, although it has been – and is – available standalone for Mac and iOS through their respective app stores, free.

If you're already a heavy user of Evernote, say, or are eyeing the beefed-up Notes app that's coming as part of OS X 10.11 El Capitan (opens in new tab), OneNote is unlikely to sway you – although, of course, since it's free outside Office 2016 you can just try it – but it's definitely a more-than-competent, rich, multimedia-savvy notebook app. And remember that this is where the audio-recording notebook feature – which students and others would likely have relied on in previous versions of Word – now lives.

Are these changes enough to make you want to upgrade, or are they too minor to convert you to an Office 365 customer? Let us know in the comments below!