The latest update to Microsoft's flagship word processing application, Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac levels the playing field for Macs in business.

For as long as I've been reviewing Microsoft Word, it has been difficult to see any kind of relationship between Word for Mac and Word for Windows, beyond the name and file format. They were essentially two completely different products designed for what, in Microsoft's mind, were two completely different sets of users.

Word for Mac 2011 changes all that. The Intel-only Word 2011 is a significant and substantive update to Microsoft's flagship Mac word processing and page-layout application. It is an update that unifies a user's experience across platforms, and it's also a release that contains many valuable new features and improvements — more than 30 in all.

The bottom line is this: Microsoft Word for Mac no longer feels like a second-string word processing program in the Microsoft Office suite. It is in fact a powerful tool for creating all your personal and business documents and for collaborating with others. More importantly, Word 2011 now makes it possible to insert a Mac into nearly any business environment and offer Mac users the same set of features found in Word for Windows, without compromise.

Look and feel

Word 2011 has the same look and feel as Word for Windows, but is in many ways more refined and better organized than its Windows sibling. Word 2008 used the combination of a nearly useless Elements Gallery that appeared at the top of every document and a floating Toolbox to provide you with formatting tools for your document.

Word 2011 has the Ribbon, an intelligent, customizable toolbar that provides you with a set of formatting tools suited to your current task. Working on a word processing document? The Ribbon displays a set of text formatting tools. Adding a table or a chart? You'll find a complete set of tools for editing and formatting the same. Inserting an image into a document? The Ribbon contains everything you need to resize, colour correct, wrap text around, or otherwise format that image. If you'd rather not use the Ribbon, you can hide it.

While initially the Ribbon may seem daunting to master, in practice I found that I wasn't wasting time looking for the tools I needed to get my work done. And because you're able to hide the Ribbon, you can get it out of the way when all you want to work with are words.

Word 2011

King of the Word: Word's new UI unifies the interface between Mac and Windows versions and offers Spotlight-like find and replace tools.

Enterprise-level tools

Word 2011 has significantly improved collaboration tools, making it obvious that Microsoft now considers Word for Mac, and thereby the Mac itself, to be an enterprise-level work tool. Word 2011 includes support for Microsoft SharePoint, SkyDrive, simultaneous document editing, the option to communicate with others while you edit documents together, and improves the control you have over the kinds of rights users have to review and edit documents. This security feature requires that you use Microsoft's Information Rights Management (IRM) tools, which also means that you'll need a volume license edition of Office 2011 and a Microsoft Rights Management server, but the upside is that you'll have much finer control over what other users can do with the documents you create. This includes setting expiration dates for documents and controlling whether the contents of a document can be printed, edited, or copied.

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