Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac moves to the cloud and embraces popular features from the Windows and iOS editions, putting the long-anticipated update -- which includes Excel, Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, and now OneNote -- on more even footing on the Office platform.
Built for the Mac and for Office: With Office 2016 for Mac, Microsoft has found a good balance between offering users a solid OS X experience and bringing the Mac suite more in step with the Office platform. From optimizing apps for Retina displays to allowing documents to use full-screen view and Multi-Touch gestures, Microsoft has worked to have its Mac apps take advantage of what the OS X platform offers. At the same time, the Mac apps now have more in common with their Windows counterparts, borrowing the Office for Windows ribbon, for example, and connecting to Office services through OneDrive.
In the cloud: Through Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage service, you can store, sync, and edit your Office files from any Mac, PC, or mobile device that is part of your subscription. (With the Office Online tools, you also get quick access to Sway, Microsoft's Web-based presentation app.) Microsoft also gives you the option of saving files to your Dropbox account.
Collaboration: Office 2016 through OneDrive services lets you share documents with colleagues and family members, who can collaborate with you in real time. You can share a document either from a local Office app on your Mac or through an Office Online app.
Online collaborators see changes to a document in real time. To see changes when working in a local document, you need to refresh the file by saving it. (You see a little update icon next to updated passages, signifying that updates are available.) The online document chat works well and uses Skype, so you can participate in chats via the Skype app, too. Threaded comments are available in both local and online versions of the document and help you easily follow the thread of a discussion.
When sharing, you can choose whether the recipient needs a Microsoft account. Collaborators need a Microsoft account to save changes to their own OneDrive area, of course, and to chat online.
Modern design: The ribbon's Design tab for Word gives you control over the look of your documents, letting you pick and customize themes, colors, fonts, and borders. Likewise, in PowerPoint, pick a slide theme on the Design tab and then change fonts, colors, and background styles if you wish. You also have more control over slide transitions and animations for your presentations. And to take some of the guesswork out of how to display data, Excel can show you a list of charts that it recommends for your data.
Excel: The 2016 Mac edition of Excel supports many of its Windows counterpart's keyboard shortcuts and most of the Excel 2013 for Windows functions to make moving between platforms easier. The update also includes an Analysis ToolPak add-in, PivotTable slicers for analyzing data, and an improved formula builder.
Note-taking: OneNote officially joins the Mac suite with Office 2016. Although Microsoft's note-taking software has been around since 2003, Microsoft brought it to the iPad in 2011 and offered it as a free OS X app in 2014. OneNote lets you enter notes, collect links, and attach files and insert pictures to notes. And with the free iPhone and iPad apps, you can sync and view your notes from mobile devices.
Full-strength email: Exchange's return to the Mac in 2011 may have been most welcomed by frustrated Entourage users. The 2016 edition of the email and calendaring app lets users proposed a new time if proposed meetings conflict, as well as view side-by-side calendars for coordinating events. Microsoft says the update also offers faster email delivery, compared to the preceding edition of Outlook for Mac.
Presentations: In PowerPoint, the improved presenter view and better support for audio and video in your slides should make presentations go smoothly.
Office 365 subscription: Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac requires an Office 365 subscription and runs on OS X 10.10 Yosemite and later. For a $69.99 annual subscription, Microsoft Office 365 Personal lets you run Office on one Mac or PC, one tablet, and one phone. A $99.99 annual Home subscription lets you run Office on any combination of five Macs or PCs, five tablets, and five phones. For students, Office 365 University offers a four-year subscription for $79.99, which lets you run Office on two Macs, PCs, or tablets, plus two phones. Check with your school, which may offer its own Office student package: go to office.com/student for more information.
Each user with an Office 365 subscription gets 1TB of online storage through OneDrive and access to all updates and bug fixes. Sharing subscriptions is snap: add, manage, and remove users through your Office 365 account webpage. And subscribers can manage their accounts through the accounts webpage.
If you want to skip the Office 365 subscription, Microsoft says it will release a non-365 version of Office 2016 in September that will offer 15GB of online storage through OneDrive. The one-time purchase includes ongoing bug fixes but not updates. Microsoft has not yet set pricing for the non-365 version of Office, nor for individual apps, which the company says will also be available in September.
Sharing limits: Changing permissions in a shared document -- from, say, being able to view a document to being able to edit it -- is handled through OneDrive but not through the local document. You can't change a shared document's ownership, as you can with Google Drive apps.
Mixed collaboration: While collaborating just online on a document is intuitive and smooth, a mix of online and local collaborators can be confusing.
Separate clouds: Choosing one company's suite of productivity apps often means using its cloud services, too. If you use Apple's iCloud or Google Drive cloud storage and services (or even Dropbox), OneDrive becomes another cloud service to manage.
Not all OS X features: Although Microsoft has made a big leap with Office 2016 for Mac, it doesn't support some OS X niceties, such as the ability to rename, tag, and change the location of a document in a document's title bar.
The wait for the 2016 edition of Office for Mac was worth it. This solid update offers a polished, unified look and welcome additions. If you work with a group or on multiple devices, the collaboration tools and cloud storage alone may be worth the subscription. While you now can find useful Office alternatives with cloud storage and services -- such as the Google Drive apps or Apple's Keynote, Numbers, and Pages with iCloud -- none have the breadth of the Office platform. If you need industrial-strength tools, Office 2016 for Mac is an excellent choice.