Suite-wide, Microsoft has added some nice features that make installing and using the package easier and problem free. Installation is merely drag and drop, with no product activation (maybe the next version!). Other global enhancements include an improved Project Gallery with, for example, access to recent documents based on the day of week (yesterday, last week, last month, etc.), built in long file name support, a new software update utility and improved crash reporting.

The hot item is the Mac-only Project Center, built into MS’s mail and calendar app Entourage, and integrated with Word, Excel and PowerPoint. If you’re on a network, projects can be shared among office coworkers, with deadlines, tasks and links to all related items (documents, contacts, clippings, related email messages and notes) stored in one central location. Quick backups of projects can also be done under the Overview tab. Associating subsequent documents with a project is as simple as selecting the Toolbox’s project pane and clicking the add button. It’s important to realize that ANY file can be added to the project; you’re not limited to Office documents. As nice an idea as Project Center is, it may not satisfy a large group sharing files: you can’t set deadlines in between start and due date (although you can do this outside of Project Center by adding deadline events in the calendar).

A major advancement is full native Applescript support. One downside I’ve noticed is that Entourage slows down to a crawl when running scripts. This makes the fact that Entourage alone runs so much faster than the X version a moot point since running Applescripts in Entourage is a must. This will definitely need to be fixed!

The nicest new global feature of Office that everyone will love (especially 12" laptop users) is the way the formatting palette becomes transparent when not in use and comes back to life when moused over. You can easily see your desktop or your document through the palette so minimizing or moving it isn’t necessary.

Another welcome addition for cross platform users (well, who isn’t?) is the Compatibility Report that checks your document’s compatibility with other versions of Office (Mac or Windows) and offers the ability to fix them. A pulsating red Toolbox in the main toolbar tells you when you’ve added objects that won’t be compatible with other users’ versions. Finally, Scrapbook is a searchable tool that allows you to store bits of text, graphics or even email and drag them into your documents.

Word has several new additions to crow about:

The notebook view should be a boon to teachers, students and business people alike. It sports customizable rule lines for note taking during lectures or meetings, tabs along the right edge of the page to help organize notes, an audio notes option, drag and drop enabled note widgets which allow you to move a line of text, note flags that link to selected text and audio files, a new scribble/eraser tool, and a quick search field.

The Track Changes function (which was frustratingly buggy in previous versions) allows you to see all reviewers’ additions, deletions and comments in color-coded bubbles along the side of the document for easy review. Dotted lines connect each change in the document to its corresponding bubble. Documents can also be saved based on separate reviewer’s versions.

Users will also find Smart Buttons useful in Word and Excel; a Paste Options clipboard button appears when the user pastes text into a document and an AutoCorrect Options lightening bolt button appears when Word autocorrects something you type. Each button presents with a contextual menu of appropriate options, including an option to decline whatever stupid editing change the app thinks you need to make.

Excel has two especially nice improvements that will make printing and creating charts far easier than any previous version. The new default view when opening a new workbook is page layout view, where you can easily adjust print scaling using the formatting palette instead of print preview. Excel’s formatting palette has new transparency sliders allowing you to adjust most chart objects (lines, pie slices, backgrounds, etc.), options for schemes and series colors, more pleasing drop shadow choices and more choices for custom chart types.

Although PowerPoint boasts new audio effects, 3D slide transitions and a boatload of new templates and animations, Keynote creates classier presentations, hands down. Still, Microsoft has added a nice data management feature called Presenter Tools. With Presenter Tools, the speaker can view his or her notes and thumbnails of the slides, the current slide and the next slide, check an on-screen clock and even edit or re-order slides on their own display while the audience sees the presentation on a separate monitor or projector.

Last but not least is Entourage, Microsoft’s mail, calendar, address book, task list and notes application. In addition to the new Project Center, Entourage now allows for a three-column view (folders on the left, messages in the middle and preview pane on the right), messages can be grouped or collapsed by date, subject, size, etc. Importing accounts, including Apple’s Mail, is improved, with a wizard to help get it right. The junk mail filter is quite good (not necessary to train the filter and Microsoft has said they will offer regular updates). Printing calendars is much improved: you can choose appointment book formats (Franklin Covey and the like) but, unlike Outlook, you can’t color code appointments by status (free, out of office, busy). If you use Exchange, you can query the GAL but you still can’t see distribution lists (should have been fixed in this version since it was a major complaint in v. X). Entourage works with Exchange server rules but you can’t create or edit them. Public folders and delegate access are now supported. Also improved is the ability to use Microsoft Word as an email editor to create HTML messages.