Office 2016 for Mac arrives

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Office 2016 for Mac arrives

We're just over half way through 2015 and Office 2016 for Mac is here - but only if you subscribe to Office 365.

Mac users sometimes seem to have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Office. Some hate it simply because it comes from Microsoft and some because it doesn't do everything The Macintosh Way, and some love its high level of file compatibility with documents produced on the Windows version of the suite.

Interestingly, Microsoft isn't making a big deal of new features in the new Office 2016 for Mac, which requires OS X 10.10 Yosemite or later.

Rather the talk is mostly about how familiar the user interface will be if you already use Office on Windows or iPad, the way you can work on your document on one device and then move to another and easily pick up where you left off, and the "unparalleled" file compatibility.

Office 2016 for Mac does support some of Apple's more recent technologies including full-screen view (something that seems more popular with recent converts from Windows than among long-term Mac users), multitouch gestures, and the Retina (high-resolution) displays used in many recent iMacs and MacBooks.

That's not to say there are no useful new features, even if some, perhaps many, have been inherited from other versions of Office.

Word allows simultaneous editing with other users, Excel has PivotTable improvements, PowerPoint's presenter view now puts the speaker's display on the Mac screen and the main presentation on the external display, and Outlook supports push email and can arrange messages into conversations.

The addition of OneNote to the suite largely replaces the Notebook view in Word for Mac 2011, though the ability to share notebooks with other people is a plus.

At this stage, Office 2016 for Mac is only available to Office 365 subscribers. Two plans are relevant to small businesses, and both include the full Office suite for Windows or OS X and the Office apps for tablets and smartphones, plus 1TB of cloud storage.

Office 365 Business costs $13.20 per month per user if you pay annually, or $15.95 a month if you pay monthly. Either way, you have to commit a year at a time. Office 365 Business Premium adds a hosted email account with a 50GB mailbox, and costs $13.86 or $16.61 per month per user.

Both plans allow each user to install the software on up to five Windows or OS X systems and up to five tablets and five phones. There's also the option of using the online version of Office, for instance when using a borrowed computer.

Since Office 365 costs at least $158.40 a year, you might consider waiting until September when Office 2016 for Mac will be released under perpetual licensing. We don't yet know how much it will cost, but the Home & Business edition of Office 2011 for Mac currently retails for just under $300 from the big-name stores for the or just under $200 if you shop around.

But there are three things you need to be aware of. Firstly, Office 2011 Home & Business only allows installation on one computer, not five. (The version that permitted use on one desktop and one portable computer seems to have disappeared.) Will that be the same for Office 2016? We don't know. 

Secondly, Microsoft says "We plan to release updates and new features for Office 365 customers at least once per quarter." There's no mention of whether those new features will be delivered to perpetual licensees, or whether their updates will only include bug fixes.

Finally, full use of the Office apps for Android and iOS requires an Office 365 subscription.

So even if Microsoft isn't forcing users onto subscriptions (unlike Adobe), it is coming close to making a subscription offer you can't refuse, assuming you do want to use Office rather than the alternatives.

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