Microsoft Office X for Mac review: Microsoft Office X for Mac

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Uses Aqua features and adheres to Mac OS X standards; lets you customize key commands in Excel and select multiple, discontinuous text blocks in Word; Entourage interface is easier to navigate.

The Bad Expensive upgrade; applies antialiasing sporadically, causing some ragged text; doesn't sync directly with Palm OS devices; Word and Excel don't read Microsoft Access files.

The Bottom Line If you've been waiting for a good reason to purchase Mac OS X, Office X is it. But if you're happy with both Office 2001 and OS 9, you won't find enough improvements to justify the $299 upgrade price.

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(Updated 6/11/02)

Editors' note:
On June 3, Microsoft released an Office X update called Office X Service Release 1. We have updated this review to reflect changes made in the service release.


No application is more important to the fate of Mac OS X than Microsoft Office. It doesn't matter how great an operating system is, it isn't useful to most people unless it can run mainstream business software. And whether you like it or not, Microsoft Office is about as mainstream as it gets. Fortunately for Apple, Office X ships with a well-conceived and well-implemented collection of Mac OS X applications that make the most of OS X's new Aqua interface and features. The Office X apps are fully Carbonized (that is, they've been ported to OS X from an older version of the Mac OS), but unlike most Carbon apps, they don't run in Mac OS 9. But if you've been waiting for top-notch, Mac-specific business programs before switching to OS X, Office X is for you. Be sure to download the free Service Release 1, however, for snappier performance and bug fixes. Microsoft will not ship this update on Office X CDs.(Updated 6/11/02)

Editors' note:
On June 3, Microsoft released an Office X update called Office X Service Release 1. We have updated this review to reflect changes made in the service release.


No application is more important to the fate of Mac OS X than Microsoft Office. It doesn't matter how great an operating system is, it isn't useful to most people unless it can run mainstream business software. And whether you like it or not, Microsoft Office is about as mainstream as it gets. Fortunately for Apple, Office X ships with a well-conceived and well-implemented collection of Mac OS X applications that make the most of OS X's new Aqua interface and features. The Office X apps are fully Carbonized (that is, they've been ported to OS X from an older version of the Mac OS), but unlike most Carbon apps, they don't run in Mac OS 9. But if you've been waiting for top-notch, Mac-specific business programs before switching to OS X, Office X is for you. Be sure to download the free Service Release 1, however, for snappier performance and bug fixes. Microsoft will not ship this update on Office X CDs.

Aquafied Office does it better
In building Office X, Microsoft took care to stick to Apple's OS X user interface guidelines, which often help to make text, buttons, and menus easier to see and navigate. For instance, Open and Save dialogs look and act like those in OS X. When you click them, they roll down from title bars as sheets (dialog boxes attached to a window). Word's View buttons, which let you switch between Normal, Page Layout, and other views, are colorful and easy to distinguish from the background. In Excel, as soon as you start typing in a cell, it develops a drop shadow to make it stand out from inactive cells. And using OS X's transparency (a feature that lets you adjust the opacity of text and graphics), you can overlap 3D charts and graphics in Excel, PowerPoint, and Word.

True to form, Microsoft has gone a bit overboard with some new Office X gewgaws. For example, when you close and open the Formatting palette, the palette slides in a goofy, animated, morphing way, called "genie," to and from the toolbar. There's no way to turn the genie effect off, and the animation is slow, though Service Release 1 speeds this up to a tolerable level. SR 1 also adds the somewhat extraneous ability to edit toolbar buttons. Control-click a button, choose Properties, then click the button graphic image.

We'd gladly trade these graphical features for antialiasing, an important OS X feature. Office X applies antialiasing to icons, buttons, Excel chart text, and all the text in Word. But some other text still appears jagged. Entourage, for example, doesn't antialias text in new e-mail messages, and while Excel smoothes out text in the row, column, and formula field headers, it leaves text within the cells rough around the edges. The effect is a bit jarring. Service Release 1 improves the quality of the antialiasing, for Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later, but doesn't add antialiasing to these jaggy areas.

Fortunately, Office X's extensive online help is antialiased. As with Office 2001 for Mac, Office X doesn't ship with a printed instruction manual. But, unlike Office 2001, Office X now contains a helpful, 164-page manual in the form of a PDF file, called the Getting Started Book. Responsive online tech support is available at Mactopia. To access telephone tech support, you'll have to pay for one of several standard Microsoft packages, available Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (PT).

Word and Excel are still the stars
Whereas Word 2001 made fantastic and necessary improvements from Word 98, Word X makes even greater improvements from 2001. Now, if you need to, say, format and spell-check unconnected blocks of text, simply hold down the Command key and use your pointer to select all the appropriate sections in one fell swoop. This saves you the trouble of having to choose one text block, apply the format, and then repeat the process for every area you want to change. We're pretty impressed by Word's slick Contact toolbar as well. It lets you export contacts and addresses to Entourage (the e-mail/scheduling app) directly from Word and lets you add addresses to Word documents. To put a name and an address in your Word file, just choose the name from the pop-up menu on the Contact toolbar, then click the Include Address button. Entourage doesn't even need to be open. Service Release 1 is a further improvement, clearing up some sluggish behavior in Word X, particularly when dragging objects and scrolling.

Microsoft has also greatly improved Excel. Office X lets you customize keyboard commands by using the Customize command in the Tools menu, a powerful feature Word has offered for a long time. Excel now imports FileMaker Pro database files and, with Service Release 1, files from a FileMaker server on a network. Oddly enough, Excel doesn't import Microsoft Access database files--too bad, since there's still no Macintosh version of Access. Want to read Access files from a Windows user? Forget it.

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Where to Buy

Microsoft Office X for Mac

Part Number: 73100463

MSRP: $399.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Category office applications
  • Compatibility Mac