The most obvious change you’ll notice in all Office for Mac 2011 programs is the introduction of the Ribbon interface. In a concession to the knowledge that some users can’t or won’t adjust to what is, to put it bluntly, a much easier and faster way of working with your documents, this can be turned off. Left enabled as intended, however, the Ribbon does every bit as good a job of giving quick easy and context-sensitive access to the tools you're likely to need at any given moment.
The Ribbon also makes for an improved feeling of consistency across all the Office applications. Whether you’re in Word, Excel or PowerPoint you’ll find the options relating to inserting and formatting charts logically placed under the Charts tab, for example. It’s worth mentioning, too, that the Ribbon’s appearance of Office for Mac makes life easier if you transition between Windows and OS X frequently (as some of us blasphemously do).
New to PowerPoint, Excel and Word is the Templates Gallery. Shown on start-up by default (but not if you tell it not to) this gives you not only a huge range of build-in template options, from calendars, to invoices, to curriculums vitae, but also provides an online portal where user-submitted templates can be found. Some of these are very impressive; even this early into the suites lifetime (thanks to the prolonged Beta period no doubt). If you’ve used iWork this will seem oddly familiar, but we’re not going to complain when Microsoft choses to take inspiration from good features of rival products.
On the subject of galleries, Office for Mac 2011 features a much improved media browser, which integrates much more fully with other OS X, most notably with iLife. As well as browsing using folders, as previously, it’s now also possible to import media using Places, Faces and other ‘tags’ provided by Apple’s applications.
Word, Powerpoint, and Excel also offer limited editing options when importing images. These are pretty much limited to rotating, resizing and adjusting the colour cast of your pictures, but it should mean you won’t have to jump into a dedicated program to tweak your photos quite as often, which is a useful time saver.