Microsoft Unveils Next Office For Mac

At Macworld in San Francisco on Tuesday, Microsoft plans to take the wraps off its upcoming Microsoft Office 2008 for the Macintosh, which is slated to ship in the second half of this year. The new office suite will be a "universal" version, meaning that its redesigned user interface and new perks will be able to run on PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs, said Sheridan Jones, group marketing manager for the MBU.

Some new "Mac-first, Mac-only" features will be highlighted. For example, a new "publishing layout view" in Word will let users more easily create professional-looking brochures, fliers or letters. The feature "uncovers" desktop publishing tools that are already in Word and lets users flow text into the layout and reflow the text automatically when the layout changes or graphics are inserted, Jones said.

In addition, the new Mac Office will bring a stand-alone application called My Day that works with the suite's Entourage mail client and lets users see tasks, priorities and calendar events, no matter which application they're in. And a new "ledger sheet" capability in Excel is designed to help even novice spreadsheet users do sophisticated spreadsheet tasks. It features in-the-box ledger sheets, invoices and check trackers pre-populated with relevant formulas.

The new Mac Office, like Office 2007 for Windows is moving to the default Open XML format, recently approved by Ecma. Microsoft will offer downloadable converters for Office 2004 for the Mac to enable it to read and write the format. Beta versions of the converter will be available this spring, and final versions about two months after Office 2007 itself ships, Jones said.

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Apple VARs say they're bullish on getting a new Mac Office on the shelves. "Virtually all of our customers have Office," said Steve Ide, owner of Cap Mac Computers, Falmouth, Mass.

Yet the potential for new interface conventions may raise some red flags. "I have to say, I'm sitting here with a Windows machine on my left and a MacBook Pro on my right running Parallels [virtualization software]. I'm looking at the beta version of Office 2007 [on the PC], and I've got to say it has changed pretty dramatically. I really don't want to relearn this," Ide noted. The fear is customers won't want to do so, either.

Though Office is important to business users, current customers are already running Word and Excel on Intel-based Macs, and "it works fine," said Michael Oh, president and founder of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple specialist.

"Mac Office is one of the two big non-Intel applications, the other being the Adobe suite," Oh told CRN in earlier. "The fact that Microsoft will put a stake in the ground and say it's developing for Mac-Intel will be a big deal. Because it's Microsoft, everyone wonders if they're really aboard."

Microsoft's Jones said the Redmond, Wash., company's developers work closely with Apple to ensure that the new Office takes full advantage of the Mac OS X operating system. "We really do concentrate on making Office Mac products very Mac-like. They're really designed for the Mac customers. We don't just port over the Windows version," she explained.

Case in point: The Mac Office user interface won't flaunt the much-hyped ribbon UI in Office 2007 for Windows but will use a similar but not identical Elements Gallery, she said.

Both the Mac and Windows versions of Office will take advantage of the new Office Art 2.0 graphics engine for improved graphics rendering and to help users create robust effects without having to resort to a special graphics design program, according to Jones. On the Apple side, the Art 2.0 engine will take advantage of the Mac's Quartz graphics engine, she said.

This story was updated Wednesday morning with information on file formats.