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Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac - Excel 2011 review

VBA scripting finally returns to Mac spreadsheets with Excel 2011, but is that all there is to the latest version of Microsoft's venerable number cruncher? Adam Banks takes a closer look.

Disappointingly, neither Slicers, a more interactive form of filter, nor PivotCharts, which let you switch around data in charts, have made it from Excel 2010 for Windows into the Mac version.

Conditional Formatting, another useful way to represent data visually, is now much more flexible: you can have any number of criteria instead of just the three possible under previous Excel versions. Presets include mini bar charts generated from the cell data. A similar idea is Sparklines, tiny line graphs think of the pollsters' "worms" displayed during TV coverage of the election that can be automatically displayed in, for example, the last cell of a column, summarising the data above. This is a genuinely new and clever way to make numbers more meaningful at a glance.

There are more Themes to choose from thanks to the Workbook Gallery (previously the Project Gallery) which gives direct access to Microsoft's online library of templates, including ones developed by third parties. We found few, though, that showed off Excel 2011's new features; there may be more by the time you read this. Within the app, the number of ready-made SmartArt objects has almost doubled, making it more feasible to create complete illustrated reports within Excel.

Excel users wanting to work with extremely large sheets should note that Microsoft has put off the conversion of Office to 64-bit, a switch already made in the Windows version that removes limits on the amount of RAM that can be used by an app. In reality, only a small minority will be affected, but it feels mildly frustrating to have a 64-bit operating system (Mac OS X has been 64-bit since 10.5 Leopard) and not be able to take full advantage, especially if you have more than 4GB of RAM installed.

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