An Open Letter to Microsoft About Office for Mac 2011, and How to Keep it From Sucking 

Dear Microsoft,

First, let me say this: I use iWork ’09 almost exclusively. While all-Mac at home, I am the lone Mac user in my office. I simply export things as PDFs or Office documents and keep on living in the cozy world that is iWork. If you want me, you have to fight for me.

Secondly, I’ve watched the video of your hipster developers and product managers recently posted on the Mactopia website, and I’ve run a handful of the beta builds of Office 2011 over the last few months.

And none of it wants me to kick iWork out of my Dock.

Here are some suggestions:

User Interfaces Guidelines, Guys

Office 2008 was a mess at launch. Palettes broke if Spaces was turned on under Leopard, and several menus were just plain confusing.

The half-baked Ribbon concept is still rough in places. I know 2011 is shipping with the Ribbon theme in full-force. Make it work. You can’t copy what ships on the PC. Mac OS X is different than Windows. Let me repeat that: Mac OS X is different than Windows. You can use a Ribbon — just make it act like Mac apps are supposed act. You can use palettes, just make them work like Apple-built ones.

OS X’s UI works. It’s time to adapt.

Make Outlook for Mac Awesome

Good job on trying to make Outlook play nice with Spotlight and Time Machine. Better late than never, I suppose — so get it right. Spotlight’s been around since 2005 when Tiger was released, for crying out loud.

I’m hopeful that Outlook for Mac will finally let Mac users be able to live in Exchange land happily ever after. Entourage never really got that right — which is crazy. Microsoft, you do make both products, right? Mac users and PC users should have the same abilities in an Exchange environment.

You know what could be Outlook’s killer feature — above and beyond Exchange? Google integration. I know you and the big G don’t see eye-to-eye on much, but I think you have more in common than you think — wanting to beat Apple.

Mail works well with Gmail, but IMAP can’t fake everything Google does in the browser with email. Address Book and iCal can sync with Google, but third-party apps make it tolerable.

It would be awesome to login to Outlook with my Gmail username and password, and get all my email, contacts and calendars. Get the IMAP right, get syncing right and I would love you forever. So would a lot of Google users on the Mac.

PowerPoint is an Awkward Teenager. Keynote is the Hot Prom Queen.

Look, I won’t lie — I never open PowerPoint on the Mac. Keynote kicks its ass.

To get back on top, take it to the next level — add deep media integration, easy-to-design builds and tasteful animations. The templates you showed off in that video look like a great start. If you’re going to include clipart, make it good clipart. And make it easy to find and easy to use.

And don’t even think about Word Art. Dear God, don’t even think about it.

Keep Excel Good

Numbers isn’t a great product. Apple knows it — take advantage of this. Make Excel as good on the Mac as good as it is on the PC. VBA is coming back, right?

Efficiency and the Cloud

Office 2008 has a whole bunch of tools designed to make working in groups easier. I’m not sure anyone has ever used them. If you’re going to include them this time around, make them easy to use and evem easier to understand. Integrate with Dropbox or some other cloud service that people actually use.

iWork.com sucks. You can crush Apple here. Make online Office a reality, or tie into Google Docs. Or both.

In Conclusion

Microsoft, I know you are used to being on top. Here, on the Mac, you may outsell iWork, but you sure don’t outclass it — at least at this point. Make Office 2011 to capture the hearts of Mac users who understand why Office 2008 isn’t the best thing on the planet, and I’ll plunk down some cash later this year with your name on it.