Microsoft updates timetables for next Office for Mac, XML file-format converters

Microsoft officials announced on January 9 that the next version of Office for the Mac will be dubbed "Office 2008 for Mac," and will ship in the latter half of this year. Converters needed to exchange documents between Windows- and Mac-based Office systems won't ship in final form until six to eight weeks after Office 2008, however.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Believe it or not, there were more announcements at MacWorld than just Apple's iPhone. Microsoft, too, had a bit of news.

Microsoft officials announced on January 9 that the next version of Office for the Mac will be dubbed "Office 2008 for Mac," and will ship in the latter half of this year. The product, code-named "Magnesium," will work on both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs, according to a Microsoft press statement.

The latest version of the Office for Mac product will sport its own Ribbon-like user interface that will feature a new Mac-specific "Elements Gallery." The other key Mac-specific feature is My Day – a new stand-alone application that offers a task list manager for at-a-glance schedule and task viewing.

As far as I could tell, Microsoft didn't offer up any screen shots or beta dates for the new Office product.

Update: Later in the week, the company did release some screen shots. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer posted some Office 2008 for Mac screens here

Microsoft's Mac Business Unit (MacBU) did, however, spend most of its press-release space to provide an update on the Open XML file converters that will allow Windows-based Office 2007 users and Mac users to share documents stored in Microsoft's newest file format.

Microsoft officials reiterated at MacWorld that Microsoft is planning to release a beta of the Windows-to-Mac file-format converters this spring. The final version of the converters won't be available, however, until six to eight weeks after Office 2008 for Mac ships. So that could be anywhere from latter half of 2007 to some time in 2008 (if Office 2008 for Mac ships in the last couple of months of this year).

The MacBU seems to be feeling a little defensive about its file-format timetable. In the Microsoft-generated Q&A about the company's MacWorld announcements, Microsoft's PressPass PR team asks the following:

PressPass: It seems like it takes longer to issue Mac converters than the Windows-based converters, which are already available. Why is this the case?

Roz Ho (general manager of the MacBU): In order to develop file-format converters, we had to wait until the 2007 Office system bits and the new file format itself were locked down and complete. We spent the last year and a half preparing and planning for our own development of file format converters for Office for Mac. This process included support work of a rich and compatible XML parser, code to understand the new package structure, and beginning work on reading and writing early development versions of the file format. Now that 2007 Office system for Windows is being released, we are working to complete compatibility with the released formats, and we will release converters once they have been tested thoroughly.

PressPass: How come other vendors, like TextEdit, were able to develop converters before the Mac BU?

Ho: It’s great that TextEdit can read the basic data in the file, but we have a different mandate when it comes to compatibility with the 2007 Microsoft Office system, and file fidelity is paramount. For instance, when we ship a Word converter, our customers expect us to make sure page layout is preserved for every Word document, which requires a lot more engineering effort than just importing the text. We are working hard to make sure the converters are high quality, and we’re working on them at the same time we’re working on Office 2008 for Mac.

And before folks say that they aren't expecting to have to share Office 2007 documents for a good long time, I can say from my personal experience that I've already been sent a couple of Open XML formatted documents and was very glad to have the Windows XP version converters available for download so I could read them.

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