Microsoft sets date for Mac Office

The software titan also announced new Mac stylings for the packaging and marketing of its productivity suite

Microsoft's Mac Business Unit filled in a few more gaps Wednesday in its Mac Office 2001 roadmap at Macworld Expo in New York. The company announced an October ship date for the revamped productivity suite and unveiled a new marketing and packaging scheme designed with the Mac's fruit flavours in mind.

Microsoft declined to specify pricing or specific upgrade paths for the new software but said files created under the new version will remain compatible with recent versions of the suite for the Mac as well as Windows systems.

Lead product manager Glenn Myers said the company's research showed 81 percent of its Mac users work in cross-platform environments, and 50 percent exchange files with Windows users on a daily basis.

Myers said Office 2001 is being designed as a "Classic" application, meaning it will run native under Mac OS 9 as well as within the forthcoming Mac OS X's Classic environment, although it will not avail itself of Mac OS X's advanced features, such as memory protection. A Mac OS X-native version of the Office suite is still on track for the next development cycle, Myers said.

In a bid to tie its product more closely to the Mac users who have flocked to Apple's new wave of industrial designs, the company said the Mac Office CDs will ship in a translucent plastic shell reminiscent of the industrial design of Apple's current Macs. Furthermore, the packages will sport new colour-coded "Office:mac" logos that recall the fruit flavors of the iMac.

One item the packaging will lack: printed manuals. Group product manager Mary Rose Becker said Microsoft's studies showed that fewer than ten percent of Mac Office users have recourse to traditional paper-bound guides.

Microsoft also announced a new marketing campaign featuring Mac users in action and a redesign of its Mac Web site.

Along with the marketing news, Microsoft also disclosed a few additional tidbits about the features of the forthcoming suite, which will include a PIM and email package dubbed Entourage along with the traditional Word, Excel and PowerPoint combination.

The suite will include enhanced compatibility with Mac OS 9, including Navigation Services and support for the Appearance Manager. The PowerPoint presentation component will enable users to add QuickTime transitions and save presentations as QuickTime movies, Microsoft said.

Myers said Microsoft has been "working closely" with database developer FileMaker to allow users to move FileMaker data seamlessly into Excel and Word. A List Manager view will allow users to sort and apply custom filters to information in a list. An Autoformat feature will treat lists as rows in a flat-file database and format them accordingly.

A "My Identity" feature will allow each component of the suite to recognise a current user and automatically enter personal information from a custom profile that Office 2001 applications will apply the information to commonly used areas such as letters, wizards, templates, labels, envelopes and data merges.

A contacts menu and shared clipboard will be available throughout the suite, the company said. "Save as Web Page" and "Web Page Preview" commands will let users preview and save Office documents as HTML pages.

In addition, the company said Microsoft Office 2001 will feature enhanced integration with PalmOS handhelds, althought the compatibility will not extend to PDAs based on Microsoft's own Windows CE OS. According to Myers, a "disproportionate number" of Mac users employ Palm devices. The Mac group will "look at PocketPC going forward," he said.

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