- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Here’s the word from Microsoft on what they’re going to next accomplish with Office for the Macintosh:

Microsoft Corp.’s Macintosh Business Unit (Mac BU) today revealed at Macworld Conference & Expo 2007 the news Mac fans have been waiting to hear: A new version of Office for Mac is on its way. The Mac BU announced its intent to deliver the first Universal version of Office for Mac for PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs — Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. Scheduled to be available in the second half of 2007, Office 2008 for Mac will allow Mac users to work smarter and more efficiently with new and enhanced tools that are simple, intuitive and easily discovered.

“For more than two decades, Microsoft has been committed to delivering quality and innovation on the Macintosh platform while retaining unparalleled compatibility with PCs,” said Roz Ho, general manager of the Mac BU at Microsoft. “Office 2008 is, by far, the most comprehensive, Mac-complementary productivity suite we’ve developed to date. I’ve witnessed firsthand the progression of this product, and am excited to think about the possibilities that soon will be available to our customers when Office 2008 launches later this year.”

Microsoft conducted extensive customer research to determine which enhancements to make to its Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage applications. As a result, Office 2008 for Mac is packed with new tools to help Mac users better manage the business of life.

Shared Technologies With Office for Windows

Office 2008 for Mac shares a new graphics engine with Office for Windows. Office Art 2.0 provides users with the ability to add professionally designed graphics with a simple click of a button. Like the 2007 Microsoft Office system and its new user interface (UI) with the Ribbon, Office 2008 has its own new UI that introduces Elements Gallery, a feature that emphasizes discoverability and gives users quick access to tools and Mac-specific features within applications in a visually appealing, simple way. Both features leverage Mac OS capabilities to retain a Mac-like look and feel users are familiar with while taking advantage of new technologies.

Part of the Elements Gallery is a tool called Document Parts. Documents Parts simplify and automate some of the most common, but often difficult and tedious, document tasks — such as adding a table of contents or headers and footers — so users can produce manuscripts and papers that look professional.

New Mac-First, Mac-Only Features

Microsoft continues to deliver new Mac-first, Mac-only features aimed at providing customers with a unique, engaging and definitively Mac experience. Office 2008 for Mac will carry on the tradition of Mac BU’s productivity software, helping users get organized and work smarter through these features:

Publishing Layout View lets users create incredibly layout-rich documents such as newsletters, fliers and brochures by uncovering desktop publishing layout tools and providing text box entry.

Ledger Sheets enable anyone to use Excel to handle common financial management tasks. Home and small-business users can balance checkbooks, track accounts or manage investment portfolios more easily than ever.

My Day allows users to track priorities and stay on top of daily activities no matter what application they’re currently working in. My Day is a stand-alone application that doesn’t take up much screen space, offers at-a-glance schedule and task viewing without launching Entourage, and lets users color-code everything for visualizing daily priorities.

Commitment to Compatibility

To improve collaboration between Mac customers and their Windows-based PC counterparts, the Mac BU has continued to make compatibility with Office for Windows a key priority. Like the 2007 Office release, Office 2008 for Mac will use the Office Open XML Formats, which were just approved in December by standards body Ecma International as an international standard. In spring 2007, Microsoft plans to release a public beta of the file format converters for the current version, Office 2004 for Mac, so users can read and write the new Office Open XML Formats. Six to eight weeks after Office 2008 for Mac is launched, the Mac BU intends to ship final versions of the converters.

If everything works “as advertised,” this will be rather huge. It’ll be nicer if the Office 2004 converters also work flawlessly, to make those users’ files compatible with Office 2007 on Windows, and vice versa. I’d prefer that such things happen a tad more quickly, but then again, I’m not a software engineer, so I don’t know just how much work is involved.

It’ll be interesting to see how Entourage — the Office/Mac answer to Microsoft Outlook — evolves for this new release. If it can come closer and closer still to Outlook, then it might truly challenge users who are loyal to Apple’s Mail.app and AddressBook.app. It would be super-cool, in my opinion, if the Microsoft MacBU folks made sure Entourage 2008 can work with the Plaxo address system (www.plaxo.com), and also included a “return receipt” capability for e-mail.

But I digress. Let’s see what Microsoft comes up with, and how it’ll stack up against, for example, the pending “pro” version of Nisus Writer.

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