First look: Office 2016 for the Mac closes the gap

After a five-year hiatus, Microsoft finally brings a worthwhile Office to the Mac

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Working with local files, iCloud Drive files, and files in cloud storage other than Microsoft's own services is thus both awkward and time-consuming.

Word 2016 for Mac

On the Word front, Microsoft has a clumsy new collaborative editing capability that allows more than one person to work on a document simultaneously. Unlike Google Docs, which keeps collaborating edits updated in real time, Office requires a manual save on both sides -- you won’t see changes made by your collaborator until she saves/syncs the document, then you save/sync the document.

When changes have been made to a shared document and saved, an Updates Available notification is supposed to appear, but I couldn’t get that to work.

Figure 3 shows the results of a collaboration, with an update and dual save between Word 2016 for Mac and Word 2013 for Windows.

Office 2016 for Mac collaboration

Figure 3. Items changed by your collaborator appear with a green highlight. The “2” in the upper-right corner signifies that two people are working on the document.

Although collaboration works properly among Word 2016 for Mac and Word 2013 for Windows, I had trouble getting the sync to work in Excel.

As best I can tell, Office 2016 for Mac does not do autosaves; I could find no way to turn that capability on. Office 2016 doesn't support Yosemite’s native autosave feature either.

Word has several other new features. With a Styles pane on the right, it's quick and easy to apply styles to selected characters or paragraphs. It’s functionally equivalent to the Styles pane in Word 2013 for Windows, though the appearance is quite different.

Microsoft says there’s a new threaded comment capability, which as best as I could tell is identical to threaded comments (comments made to comments) in Word 2013 for Windows. The same observation applies to the new Picture Format ribbon, which is almost identical to the Picture Format ribbon in Word 2013 for Windows.

The new multifunctional Navigation Pane adds one navigation type to the three already found in Word 2013 for Windows -- headings, page thumbnails, search results -- so you can now navigate by type of change (insertions, deletions, moves, formatting, comments).

At this point, there are no Quick Parts available for document assembly.

I encountered one file-rendering problem. As you can see in Figure 4, a DOCX file that opens and displays properly in Word 2013 for Windows gets hopelessly scrambled when opened in Word 2016 for Mac.

office 2016 mac test

Figure 4. This newsletter renders properly in Word 2013 for Windows, but gets jumbled in Word 2016 for Mac.

The misbehaving file isn’t a specially constructed format-buster. I found it in the wild. It consists of many text boxes with wrapped photos. Much of the text in the text boxes gets dropped entirely. One would reasonably expect that all versions of Word would properly render a file created in Word 2013. In this case, Word 2016 for Mac falls short.

Paul Thurrott notes a significant difference in default Normal paragraph styles between Word 2016 for Mac and Word 2013 for Windows. To a first approximation, Normal on the Mac uses single-line spacing and 12-point Calibri, while Normal on Windows uses 1.08-line spacing and 11-point Calibri. The styles carry across, so the text in a document created in Word 2016 for Mac is going to look big in Word 2013 for Windows, for example. A poster named Jody provides an excellent description of why and how this happens in the comments to Thurrott’s article. There's no indication yet whether that’s a known problem, a change coming in Word 2016 for Windows, or simply beta blues.

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