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/.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried