Microsoft Office 2016 offers welcome changes for Windows switchers

If you're a long-time Windows PC user considering a switch to Mac and you're heavily invested in Microsoft Office, you may be concerned about whether all the features and functions you're used to will still be there. Before now I'd say that you had to make a lot of adjustments. The change from Windows to Mac is easier than ever thanks to the new and improved Office for Mac 2016. I have important news for people worried about how they'll get this new version of Office once it's out, too. Read on for details!

Switch to Mac


Every week our Peter Cohen brings you Switch to Mac — a column to help you move from Windows PC to the Mac and OS X!

On Thursday Microsoft revealed a downloadable preview version of Office for Mac 2016, the latest major revision to its office productivity software suite for Mac. It's the first time that Office for Mac has gotten a major upgrade since in more than four years.

The release version won't be out until the second half of the year, but the preview version is available right now. You don't need to be an Office 365 user to get it, either — just visit the web site and download it.

The new version sports a new codebase that's designed for today's Macintoshes, with support for the Retina Displays you find on many MacBook Pros and the 5K iMac.

What's more, functionality from Excel 2013 for Windows has been carried over to the Mac version, so if you've had a hard time getting your spreadsheets to work on the Mac, this may smooth things out.

Word and PowerPoint gain many improvements too. Outlook, Microsoft's email client, and OneNote, Microsoft's note-taking software (its answer to Evernote), are also included. The new version is better integrated with Microsoft's OneDrive cloud services, which you get a free terabyte of storage on if you're an Office 365 subscriber.

There are a few caveats: First, remember that this is preview software, so some features and functionality may be missing. Second, the preview will expire about 60 days from release (but Microsoft plans to continue to release preview builds, which will reset the clock, so stay on top of them with Office's auto-update feature). Third, if you currently depend on Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, you can run this version alongside it without any difficulty.

Microsoft will release Office for Mac 2016 as a finished product some time in the second half of 2015, so you can experiment with this new version for a while before deciding whether to buy it.

If you're an active Office 365 subscriber, you'll get the newest versions of the Office apps for Mac as they're released. Not interested in subscribing to Office 365? Don't worry: Microsoft tells me they still plan to offer a perpetual license to Office for Mac 2016 as a one-time purchase, just as they do with Office for Mac 2011.