After four months in public beta, Office 2016 for Mac arrived in its final form Thursday, with Microsoft announcing the news on its Office for Mac blog. It's available now for Office 365 subscribers and students, and will be available in a standalone purchase edition in September.
I wrote about Office 2016 for Mac back in March, when the public beta arrived, and my impressions then still hold: This is an attractive release that looks better than Office for Mac has ever looked, while offering connectivity to the iOS and Windows versions of the product.
Gone is the giant stack of toolbars found in Office 2011 (yes, seriously, the last new version of Office for Mac was five years old), replaced by a unified tab/ribbon bar. Toolbar buttons have been freed of heavy borders and gradients. The toolbar at the very top of the window is now smaller and shares space, Yosemite-style, with the open/close/minimize buttons.
One visual change from the initial public beta release is that Microsoft has decided the unifying color scheme of Office products should extend to the title bars at the top of windows. In the first beta, Excel's top bar was Yosemite-style monochrome, but there was a nod to Excel Green in the status bar at the bottom. In the final version of Office 2016, the title bar is full-on green in Excel, blue in Word, and so forth. It's bold and not quite Mac-like, but fits exactly with the look of the product on iOS. I kind of dig it, but if you want to flip the appearance so things are monochrome up top and colorful down at the bottom, you can--in the General section of the Preferences window, you can switch from the "Colorful" theme to the "Classic" model and that selection will be applied to all office apps.
In general, all the apps now behave more like their modern equivalents on Windows and iOS. Word supports multiple users editing a document at once, and threaded comments. All the apps appear to have mapped standard Windows keyboard shortcuts onto the Mac versions whenever possible, so if you're used to typing control-B to bold some text, you won't be disappointed--and comfortable Mac users will still be able to use the Command key to perform those same functions. Also, the performance issues I saw with the first developer beta back in March seem to have been resolved--the apps all felt fast, even when I was zooming in and out of a several-hundred-page-long document in Word.
According to Microsoft's blog post, the public beta was the largest Office for Mac beta ever, providing more than 100,000 pieces of feedback. In the post, Microsoft VP Kirk Koenigsbauer said that the company is committed to releasing updates and new features for Office for Mac "at least once per quarter." That's good news for Mac users who have gotten accustomed to a long, long time between major releases, with very little in the way of updates in between.
One final note: Since I was using the preview version of Office 2016 for Mac, it didn't automatically update me to the final version. But there was an easy workaround: I logged into office.com/myaccount, de-authorized my iMac as one of my Office installations, and then clicked to re-install. I downloaded a 1.16GB installer package, reinstalled, and was up and running without even needing to re-enter my Office 365 password.