Microsoft Sets Oct. Launch Date For Office For Mac 2011

That's because Office For Mac 2011 will be the first version to include full Outlook integration, as well as new features such as conversation view and a revamped database that makes the process of finding e-mails and files less headache-inducing.

Michael Oh, founder of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple reseller and professional Mac support shop, estimates that Entourage offered around 60 percent of the functionality found in Outlook. He isn't surprised that customers have been clamoring for information about Office For Mac 2011.

"It's definitely a product that people have been asking about," Oh said.

But there's more to Office For Mac 2011 than just Outlook: Microsoft says it has also tweaked the performance of the software in ways that will be immediately apparent to customers.

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In a Tuesday video blog post, Han Yi Shaw, senior user experience manager in Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, said Excel's charting feature has received a major speed boost that enables it to perform in one second what Excel 2008 for Mac took 30 seconds to complete.

Word For Mac 2011 includes two views: one that's optimized for reading and the other for writing. The latter removes all of user interface that's typically associated with Word, Shaw said. "When you're in this view, you almost forget you're in Word because all you see is the page," he said.

Office For Mac 2011 is the first update in three years, and Apple resellers are seeing strong interest in the product from customers, particularly companies that have moved portions of their PC base from Windows to Mac.

"Office For Mac is now getting high level functionality that has been part of Windows for years," said Nick Gold, director of business development at Chesapeake Systems, a Baltimore, Md.-based Apple partner. "This is a very important release for our customers."

Virtualization is catching on quickly in the business world, and Parallels 6 debuted earlier this month to positive reviews. But while it might seem that Mac-using companies could continue using the PC version of Office via application virtualization, software licensing costs are still a barrier, says Gold.

John Eaton, co-founder of San Francisco-based system integrator Eaton & Associates, says application virtualization is more appropriate for a specialized application than for Office.

"My rule of thumb is that if you're going to spend most of your day working in a virtual PC environment, then just buy a PC," he said.