Microsoft Office 365 for Mac — what a disappointment

Office365The background

For the past decade or so I’ve pretty much got by with open source or free software. Even my MacBook was a version that didn’t get the Apple “office” apps. LibreOffice, Thunderbird, The GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Apache, MySQL, WordPress, Eclipse, Chrome, Firefox and a long list of lesser apps have been enough for me.

Why then did I subscribe to Office 365 in a recent moment of weakness?

It’s been a temptation for a while as I do more work out of the office and off the breathless and unreliable work laptop. There’s a long list of little irritations to working on a single document with two office suites; enough to be noticeable, sometimes very irritating, but seldom fatal. Eventually though, the combination of a discount subscription, a work upgrade that originally came with OneNote(1) and the need to review a complex Word document, reliably creating tracked changes & comments, tipped the balance. Add in 1TB of storage and 60 Skype minutes and I caved and subscribed for a year.

I should emphasise that I thought I was doing this with my eyes open.

  • I have a 4 year old Android phone already running Outlook(2) so I planned to go easy on the device and just install OneNote
  • I had higher, but still I thought realistic, expectations of the iPad 2 so Word and Excel joined Outlook(2)
  • No qualms about installing on the MacBook Pro (with its i7 and SSD and all that)
    • No Access or Publisher but they won’t be missed
  • Finally the full monty ended up on the rarely used old Windoze 10 desktop

And what happened then

Two things:

  1. To be fair the three core apps work perfectly on the two desktops — I did my editing job and produced a perfectly marked up review document — and they perform basic open, save and share functions well through live.com
  2. Immense frustration as I discovered major failings
    • The complete inability of Outlook to connect to any of the three major cloud system’s online calendars, contacts, tasks and notes — even Microsoft’s own Windows Live (or Outlook.com)
    • OneNote has no reminder capability and relies on a connection to Outlook. This is only possible on Windoze; the Mac version of Outlook has no connection. Think about that if you are considering switching from Evernote.

I’ve spent the last week searching microsoft.com for a means of connecting Outlook from the Mac or Windoze to Google Calendar and Contacts. It only appears to be possible to connect Outlook to Exchange based, Office365.com online systems which are targeted at business. Having seen the page outlining the options for this I can’t even say with any confidence that this would work on all the plans offered there. At the time of writing I can’t investigate the option of upgrading to Office365.com because Microsoft seems to have a problem.

Those of us on the free consumer version of live.com, even if we are paying for 1TB of storage, are stuck with a communication and productivity tool which can only send & receive mail. Even this is severely compromised by the complete inability of Outlook to import the most basic CSV file of contacts.

Where does that leave anyone who’s bought Office 365 Home or Personal, especially if their primary device is a Mac?

On the upside you have three perfectly competent tools which will connect to live.com. If you have to deal with Office documents from elsewhere, your problems with formatting and lack of features are over.

However — and it’s a huge however — Outlook is as much use as chocolate teapot. Any mail tool will do the same job better, including the “Outlook” installed on mobile devices.

My Conclusion

Microsoft are overselling their current Office suite by saying:

From work to your favorite café, Office 365 keeps you connected to what’s important—friends, family, projects and files. Access the Office apps you use and the files you need seamlessly from your desktop to your mobile devices.

I can’t offer a legal opinion but statements like this scattered throughout the Office 365 Home/Personal web pages might be considered product misdescription.

If things don’t change I’ll probably let my subscription lapse at the end of its year.

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110px-microsoft_outlook_2013_logo-svgIf you own a mobile device you can download Microsoft Outlook for Android and iOS and you wil have an app capable of sending and receiving mail for multiple accounts and connecting to your contacts and calendars whether you choose to use live.com, icloud.com, google.com or some other cloud system.

If you own a desktop, that version of Outlook is far less capable. Essentially its a mail app because the calendar & contact functions won’t connect to the cloud meaning you can’t see them on your other devices.

These two apps seem to have been developed from different origins. The mobile app was developed as Acompli and simply bought and rebadged. The desktop app has a much longer Microsoft lineage. The difference shows — mobile grew in a cloud based world where everything connects and syncs with everything; desktop doesn’t seem to have expanded beyond the “personal” in PC.

This basic difference means the desktop app, particularly on a Mac, is completely unsuited to a multi device world. Until Microsoft gives it solid cloud capbability, don’t waste you money.