MS touts integration in Mac Office 2001

The company said the next Mac version of its productivity suite will share more than 50 percent of code among applications

The rapidly unfolding legal actions against Microsoft apparently haven't slowed down the company's Macintosh Business Unit, which this week provided ZDNet News with additional details about its next Office suite of productivity applications for the Mac.

Office 2001 Macintosh Edition, which will be available in the second half of the year, will include new versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint and will mark the debut of an e-mail and personal information manager application, currently code-named Alpaca.

Although company representatives declined to detail the capabilities in store for each application, they were enthusiastic about the new, 'document-oriented' focus of the suite, which they said will integrate Office components more tightly. "Over 50 percent of the code in Office is shared between applications," said Irving Kwong, product manager for the MBU.

Glenn Myers, a lead project manager for the MBU, added that the goal with Office 2001 was "integration" among the disparate word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications. "But you're not going to see an increase in arcane files in your system folder," Myers said.

To accomplish that task, Office 2001 will feature a group of tools that can be accessed from within any Office application. Each application will also include improved support for data originating in the others.

"For example," Kwong said, "if you had pasted an Excel 2001 spreadsheet in Word 2001 and wanted to edit it, double-clicking on the spreadsheet would call up Excel."

Perhaps remembering the crippling profusion of interface elements that overwhelmed the Mac version of Word 6, the MBU has moved the functionality of the formatting tool bar to the floating formatting palette, leaving Word with only one default tool bar. (Kwong said users will be able to enable the old-fashioned formatting tool bar if they prefer.)

Not only will the formatting palette contain font, alignment, border and document options, but it will be available in all Office applications for styling text.

Kwong added that the formatting palette is context-sensitive, much like the floating inspector palette in Adobe's GoLive Web-editing application; when an item in a document is clicked on, the formatting palette will change to offer appropriate options.

Office 2001 applications will also be able to import digital images directly from any TWAIN-compliant device, Kwong said. The suite will feature an Image Effects palette, a floating tool set that will offer "pretty basic" image-editing capabilities, Kwong said, such as cropping, "red-eye" reduction and scratch removal.

In addition, the Image Effects palette will include picture effects. According to Kwong, the effects will work similarly to Adobe Photoshop filters to offer effects such as charcoal or mosaic.

Kwong said all palettes will be dockable and capable of being "snapped to" screen edges.

All Office 2001 applications will also be able to access the included Encarta Dictionary from within the application via a contextual menu click.

Other new features will be more application-specific. Excel 2001 will debut a Formula Calculator for easier creation and editing of spreadsheet formulas, improved AutoComplete, and List Tools. The last feature will convert an Excel 2001 file to something "more like a flat database," Kwong said, preserving rows, creating stable list headers and enabling users to sort by header criteria.

Kwong said Excel 2001, like Excel 98, will be able to import FileMaker Pro files via the free FMPro add-in. However, Excel 2001 will not add direct support for files created with Microsoft's PC-only Access database, he said.

PowerPoint 2001 will also receive a makeover. Kwong said the application's new Tri-Pane view, which will combine the Slide, Outline and Notes view, should help novice users navigate and edit while creating a presentation.

In addition, Kwong said, PowerPoint 2001 will have access to QuickTime effects and transitions both from within a PowerPoint presentation and in another of the application's new features, the ability to export these presentations as QuickTime movies.

Like AppleWorks 6's QuickTime-presentation feature, Microsoft's Make Movie feature will also allow users to strip out these transitions, add MP3 audio tracks and create credits. Kwong said this enhancement could open PowerPoint to new applications in multimedia kiosks and animated photo albums.

Another goal for Office 2001, Kwong said, is to make complex tasks more user-friendly. Users will have the option, when starting any Office application, to begin with the project gallery. Similar to capabilities in AppleWorks 6, the project gallery will present users with an array of templates, from brochures to memos. Kwong said the templates option had proven popular in Office 98 Macintosh Edition, so Office 2001 will contain more than 400 templates, up from the "150 or so" in the previous version.

Experienced users will be able to disable the project gallery on a per-application or per-project basis.

Office 2001 will also sport a plethora of Wizards for customizing templates by changing colours or adding personalized information.

Despite the tight integration of Office's components, Kwong said that users will be able to use only parts of the suite, substituting their favorite word processor or spreadsheet. Though the non-Office applications won't be able to access the suite's shared features, "Office 2001 plays well with others," he said.

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