To help you format your data for presentation, Excel 2011 offers both themes (which apply rules to your entire spreadsheet) and cell styles (which apply styles to cell ranges). You can customise these as you wish, and save customised versions for easy reuse. Themes and cell styles are available from the Ribbon via resizable drop-down windows. Unfortunately, Excel doesn’t remember custom size/shape settings for any Ribbon-based windows, so you’ll have to resize them each time they’re activated.

People who rely on pivot tables will appreciate Excel 2011's automatic pivot table creation, a new PivotTable Builder to ease building and modification of pivot tables, and pivot table report designs, layouts, and styles. I found both building and manipulating pivot tables to be much simpler in Excel 2011 than in the 2008 version.

Improved filters: Excel 2011's filters are more in line with their Windows counterparts.

Tables (previously known as lists) have similarly gotten a full makeover in Excel 2011. Creating tables is as simple as selecting your data and choosing a layout from the Ribbon (or from the menus). Once you've done that, it’s easy to filter and sort your data.

Sorting and filtering in general is better in Excel 2011 than in Excel 2007 and 2010 for Windows. You can create multi-select filter conditions without using custom filters, sort or filter on a font color or cell colour, see matches immediately as you create your filter and utilise built-in filters (such as Above Average or Below Average) to speed your work.

Macros are back

Excel 2011 addresses one of my major complaints about its predecessor: no support for macros. Macros (via Microsoft’s Visual Basic for Applications) are back in Excel 2011, which means I can finally retire my copy of Office 2004, the last version to support macros.

Excel 2011 supports some new macro features, such as the ability to set watch points, and it handled all of my existing macro spreadsheets (including a complex model containing custom menus and input forms) just fine. In addition, Microsoft says that cross-platform macro compatibility with the Windows version of Excel has been improved, although I was unable to test this.

While many Mac users may never use macros, their return is good news for power users and those who work in cross-platform environments.