Software: A new Office romance

David Fox reviews Microsoft's Mac-loving Office 98 program

APPLICATIONS THAT repair themselves if any essential components are damaged or deleted, and a help icon with attitude, are two of the most appealing aspects of the latest version of Microsoft Office. More interestingly, Office 98 is only available for the Apple Macintosh; these and many other neat features won't appear on Windows until Office 2000, the first beta of which has just been released, although it won't appear in the shops until next year.

Only a year ago Bill Gates was roundly booed when he was introduced by satellite to the crowds at MacWorld Expo. But, at last month's event in New York, there were cheers when Apple's Steve Jobs mentioned the "M" word. This is largely due to the efforts Microsoft has made with Office 98 to deliver a true Mac experience. It is faster, neater, more fun and even has moments of genius (such as the self-repairing applications).

Of course, Mac-lovers will never fully forgive Gates for inflicting a poor imitation of the Mac's interface on the world, especially as Windows has pushed the Mac OS so far into second place. But Microsoft's new commitment to supporting the Mac, which included a $150m investment, has helped (together with iMac and other new, better-value products) to give Apple a future.

As far as Office is concerned, Microsoft is merely returning to its roots. In 1984, long before it came to dominate the world, Microsoft Word was one of the first Mac word-processors. It was joined by Excel a year later. That is why the Mac commands for cut, copy and paste (control-X, -C and -V) are now used by PC-users worldwide.

However, by Word 6.0, the rot had set in. Many users gave up on this slow, bloated program and went back to the previous version, 5.1. For a while it looked as if Microsoft, too, had given up. In fact, it has been four years since it last upgraded Office for the Mac, leaving Mac- users with an inability to exchange files directly with the more recent Windows versions.

That is one of many problems addressed by Office 98, which is Microsoft's best effort yet at removing the compatibility barriers between different versions of its software. Both PC- and Mac-users can now work on the same files, and any changes they make are automatically recognised by the software and are colour-coded.

From the start, Office 98 is easier to use. You just drag it on to your hard disk to install it, and it supports Mac drag and drop for the first time, making it easy to drop even a QuickTime movie into a document. It is also more Mac-like in its appearance. And the many Word 5.1-users can make it retain 5.1's simpler interface.

Other notable additions include Max, the dancing, quirky assistant to guide you through its features and respond to (very) plain English questions - just as well, as the rest of the help features are convoluted and the documentation is basic.

Word handles large files well, with a neat Document Map feature to take you instantly to any part of a document. And it is a lot more Web aware. Each application has a Web toolbar and can format HTML pages, and you can even surf the Net from Word. You can also insert hyperlinks into any document, which, as ClarisWorks Office has shown, is a very handy way of getting about big files.The hyperlinks will also bring up a Web page, and Word can open any HTML page as a fully formatted Word document, which can also be saved as HTML pages.

Another neat idea is the ability to create and edit tables in Word just by drawing the table on screen as you want it, with none of the pre-selection you would normally need to do in a dialog box (although that option is still available). Those tables can also be used to do calculations, without needing to link to Excel. Excel 98, however, is a lot faster than previous versions, and will automatically proffer corrections to common syntax errors in formulas. It will even understand plain-English row and column headings, instead of needing cell references to create formulas, and you can make changes by dragging coloured range borders.

Some new features, such as animated text and the decidedly weird AutoSummarise tool, which gives you a short, but rarely useful, summary of what you've written, may seem like overkill; others, like the drawing tools which could be used for DTP, will find a niche.

There have been some compatibility problems, such as with Adobe Type Reunion and Connectix RAM Doubler (for which fixes are available); and there are, inevitably, some bugs. But the package is generally stable, fast and efficient.

Besides Word and Excel, Microsoft Office 98 includes PowerPoint, Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. It requires a PowerPC Mac with a 120-MHz processor, 16MB RAM (32MB recommended), 50MB to 120MB free disk space, CD-ROM, and Mac OS 7.5 or later. It costs pounds 410 inc VAT (or pounds 220 for an upgrade). A less comprehensive, but useful alternative is Claris Office for pounds 100.

For more information: http://www.microsoft.com/macoffice/.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine