Microsoft on Tuesday said that this summer it will release a native Exchange Server solution for Apple's Unix-based Mac OS X operating system.
The initial Exchange solution for OS X will give users of Entourage X, an e-mail and personal information manager designed for the Mac, an enhanced set of tools for communication, PIM and scheduling in a mixed PC and Mac work environment, according to Microsoft. The software giant said the OS X-native Exchange support will be a boon particularly to enterprise customers with its shared calendaring capability.
Exchange is Microsoft's messaging and collaboration server offering for companies ranging from small businesses to enterprises. Other Exchange updates planned for the upcoming OS X solution include a directory-service lookup feature, enabling searches of global address lists, as well as the ability to synchronize the Entourage X calendar and address book with Exchange for offline use, according to Microsoft.
The Exchange support in Entourage will also offer improved text rendering in e-mail received from Outlook for Windows, making the Macintosh e-mail client a full corporate citizen to Exchange.
Apple solution providers said that's a major improvement over the level of support offered for the Mac OS 9-based Outlook 2001 client for the Macintosh, which gives users access to the Exchange e-mail only.
"This is awesome," said Matthew Cohen, CTO at TekServe, a New York-based Apple VAR. "It's about time. There has been no connectivity in the calendar or shared address book and for enterprise customers that have to deal with the Exchange server."
One Microsoft partner said that giving Office v. X and Entourage X users full access to the Exchange server will please Apple's growing number of laptop users.
"I want active sync and other stuff to work on a Mac, too," said Ken Winell, president of Econium, a Totowa, N.J.-based solution provider. "It doesn't affect a large portion of my users, but the new Mac laptops are an attractive alternative to Wintel laptops and are full featured. So some folks are buying them."
The OS X-native Exchange solution will be compatible with Exchange 2000 and higher versions. Outlook 2001 for Mac will continue to be the Exchange solution for users of Mac OS 9, Microsoft said.
The announcement of an Exchange solution for OS X reflects Microsoft's continued support of Apple's Macintosh platform. Questions have swirled around the Mac's future with Microsoft products since a five-year software pact between Apple and Microsoft expired last August. Under the 1997 agreement, Microsoft agreed to develop software and tools for the Mac plus invest $150 million in non-voting Apple stock. Microsoft no longer holds that investment in Apple.
Microsoft also named a new general manager for its Macintosh Business Unit, Roz Ho, last December after the 150-employee division's previous leader, Kevin Browne, left to join Microsoft's video game unit.
However, Microsoft has kept rolling out Mac products. In November 2001, the company shipped an OS X-native version of its Office suite, dubbed Office v. X, and over the next year introduced MSN Messenger 3.0 for Mac, Palm handheld synchronization for Entourage X and the Remote Desktop Connection client. In addition, the Mac Business Unit released a stand-alone version of Entourage X last month, and it plans to deliver MSN for Mac OS X in early 2003.
"The single most popular request we've heard since launching Office v. X is that our customers need an Exchange solution for Mac OS X," Tim McDonough, director of marketing and business development for Microsoft's Mac Business Unit, said in a statement. "We recognize that many of our customers use Exchange for their server-side communications and need a solution that's made specifically for Mac OS X. By building the Exchange solution into Entourage X, we're giving users of Mac core Exchange functionality and cross-platform compatibility in an e-mail client designed to meet their needs."