Microsoft Office for Mac 2016: The Free Preview

Office for Mac 2016 promotional graphic showing Office app icons on Mac screen

It’s no secret that Microsoft’s Office suite for the Mac has needed some real attention. The set of applications was last updated in 2011, and since then its issues and pain points have become glaringly obvious. From a dated look to missing functionality, Office for Mac 2011 isn’t so great.

Microsoft is finally updating Office for the Mac with Office 2016, and though it’s still under development, the company’s released the beta of Office for Mac 2016 as a free preview. There are good points and bad points, but overall Microsoft is heading in a solid direction.

Here’s everything you need to know about Microsoft Office for Mac 2016, including how to get your own preview copy for free.

What You Get

Microsoft Word on Mac screen, with floating Office app icons
The Office for Mac 2016 preview comes with full versions of everything in the Office suite, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote. Each of these will install alongside your current versions and will not affect them at all, which is a good thing.

It’s recommended that you continue to use whatever you currently use for an office suite for important tasks while you run these preview versions, so if you have the space, keep old and new installed.

Changes in Look and Feel

The dated look of Office 2011 is nowhere to be seen in the new version. With the visual updates that OS X has received since 2011, this is a very welcome change.

Sample page in Word for Mac 2016

Items are laid out to better mimic the current Windows version of Office while keeping its inherent Mac-specific feel. While we may give Microsoft some guff over waiting so long to update its Office for Mac suite, the truth is there’s a fine line that must be walked. First, the Office team needs to make sure that the updated version isn’t too far off from the previous one so as not to scare off longtime users, but also that it’s close enough to the current Windows version to please Mac converts.

Sample page of Excel for Mac 2016

Thankfully, the Ribbon is still present; even better, it’s been cleaned up and streamlined. The Ribbon tabs have been cleaned up as well, with items better defined and organized than before. For example, in Excel, table creation is now done under the Insert tab. When a table is created, a new Table tab appears. When the table is deselected, the tab goes away, as it should.

We already talked about the new Outlook for Mac, but now non-Office 365 users can try it out, too. While the new Outlook for Mac looks cleaner and works with Exchange accounts better, Microsoft eliminated the ability to export ANY data out of the new email client, making backing up your contacts or using apps like Scrubly mostly impossible. We’re hoping this is something Microsoft changes for the final version of Office for Mac 2016.

Sample screen of Outlook for Mac 2016

Under the Hood

There seem to be some pretty big things happening behind the scenes in the new Office for Mac. There are small yet welcome changes, like the addition of Control-key shortcuts that function alongside their Command-key counterparts. This might seem useless for Mac users, but for those switching from PC to Mac this is hugely helpful.

Duplicate contacts killing your productivity? See how Scrubly can help in this 100-second video.

There are also some pretty big changes in how you save files. Office for Mac 2016 now officially supports saving files to the cloud, as long as the cloud you’re talking about is OneDrive. If you’re a business user you also get SharePoint, marking the first time SharePoint has been integrated with Office for Mac, a huge deal for anyone using a Mac for work.

This integration also brings along things that Windows users have enjoyed for some time, including co-authoring documents and seamlessly moving from one device to another, but now the Mac is included. There’s even a sharing button in the upper right corner that allows you to email the file as-is, convert it to PDF and send it, or share it for co-authoring.

Issues and Caveats

Before you jump ship and go all-in with Office for Mac 2016, there are a few things you should be aware of. First, this is only a beta version of the software. This means that while it’s mostly OK to use, there are bound to be some bugs in the machine, as well as some features that simply don’t work.

One of the biggest issues so far seems to be with Excel. When scrolling through a sheet there are stops and stutters that make seeing through a scroll nearly impossible. Excel is also using way more RAM and CPU than it hopefully will in the final release. Word doesn’t auto-scroll when you type past the fold, either, making it somewhat annoying to type a long document. (Trust me on this: I typed this post in Word 2016).

While these issues seem small, there may be larger ones hiding under the surface. This shouldn’t scare you away from trying the new software, but we wouldn’t recommend using it for extremely important work.

Finally, the preview version won’t work forever. While Microsoft will constantly be updating the preview, each build of the software will only function for 60 days after being posted. The final preview build will work for roughly one month after the official launch date, to get everyone switched over.

How to Get It

Office for Mac Preview home page graphic
If you have a Mac running OS X Yosemite, then you’re all set to install and check out the newest Office for Mac. All you have to do is follow this link.

The Office for Mac 2016 preview will install alongside your current version, so you’re safe in case it doesn’t work out. Heck, you can even run Word 2011 and Word 2016 at the same time if you want.

Check out the preview and let us know what you think in the comments. So far we’re very impressed, and we can’t wait for some updates to squash a few bugs and make it even better.

Office for Mac 2016 Preview Download

Scrubly social-sharing menu.

Scrubly sign-up.