- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

The arrival of a new version of Microsoft Office for the Macintosh, called “Office 2004,” is on the horizon, and should be welcomed by many users.

No official release date has been announced, but a demo of some of its new features can be found at www.microsoft.com/mac. If you are into the Mac as a productivity tool, you will want to learn about this product.

I’ve been working with a Beta version of the entire suite for about a month. There are still some kinks to be worked out, but it’s a substantial improvement over previous Mac Office products. The new release will be close to the Windows-based Office 2003 that bowed last year. Although the Mac and Windows versions of Microsoft Office have had varying degrees of compatibility over the years, this new Mac version will be the most “simpatico” for Windows users who end up with a Mac, and that’s a good thing.

All four of the Mac Office components — Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage (the personal information manager, or PIM) — are substantially improved. To keep an air of mystery, Microsoft is parceling out the full details in installments, but there are some things that can be made public now.

Presenters who like the Mac will want to see the new version of PowerPoint, which will give Apple’s Keynote some competition. The program’s new “Presenter Tools” offer an on-screen clock, a notes pane and thumbnails of the entire presentation, all of which the presenter can see, while the audience sees a full-screen display of the actual slides.

Another feature is Entourage, which is the Mac equivalent of Microsoft Outlook, and then some. I’ve come to rely on Entourage, even if I’ve not been able to get the software to work with one of the Exchange-based e-mail systems I use. That should be fixed by the e-mail host in a few days.

However, the plusses of Entourage so far are enormous. Top of my list would have to be the “Project Center,” which allows users to group e-mail and files according to a given project. When setting up a project, an “alias” folder is created on the desktop: drag-and-drop or save a file to that folder and it’s instantly available in the Project Center for easy management, viewing and e-mailing.

When viewing e-mail, the program offers a “three column view,” which situates the e-mail reading pane to the right of the e-mail list. It’s a brilliant idea, one earlier implemented in Outlook 2003. To make sure that you get more real mail and less junk, there’s an updated “junk mail” algorithm that should block many unwanted messages.

Another new feature is archiving, which lets you save all your PIM dates in one file. It will be interesting to see if this file can then be imported into Outlook, but for Mac-only users, being able to create and save a periodic Entourage backup can come in handy.

All of the new Office productivity programs, when saving a file, will offer to provide a “compatibility report,” to check that the file you are saving will open easily and properly in other versions of the same Office programs. This is very helpful in “mixed” corporate environments, as well as for independent users whose customers may not use Macs.

Mac users should stay on top of news about this program. It’s one you will want to have as part of your arsenal.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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