Microsoft’s best looking suite saved for Mac launch


2 Mar 2004

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In a sneak preview of Microsoft’s Office 2004 for Apple Mac, siliconrepublic.com was given a tour of what was described by a Microsoft executive as the best yet in terms of rendering and graphics.

Set for a May launch the new software reaffirms Microsoft’s commitment to the Mac and its OS X operating system, borne out by the 170 people it has working in its Macintosh Business Unit, the largest Mac development team outside of Apple. “We’re not your typical Microsoft team,” proclaims its promotional video, which aims straight for the heart of stalwart Mac fans.

“We’re dedicated to the Mac platform; we believe the end user should be able to choose the computer they use,” said Microsoft’s Daniel Holmberg. “Mac versions of Office have always been ahead of the PC version. This one looks better and works better.”

New features include the Office Project Centre and Notebook Layout View, which integrate desktop components enabling faster access to information, be it emails, files, schedules or contacts. Users can search and flag relevant information as well as record audio directly into Word documents.

For the creation of multimedia documents a Scrapbook tool allows for quick access to text, logos and pictures. Entourage, the personal information management system, is now displayed in three user-friendly columns, moving away from the more typical two-tier email arrangement.

Other improvements include an updated junk email protection system and a souped up PowerPoint that has an onscreen clock for timing the presentation and some neat transition and animation effects. Both features have been shamelessly ‘inspired’ by Apple’s own Keynote presentation tool.

While these graphical treats make use of the unique features of the Mac OS X operating system, Holmberg made it clear that PC Windows would remain Microsoft’s feature-rich priority. “There are not that many Mac users,” he said, reminding us that the global penetration of the Apple platform is less than 5pc. “If we want to take a product from Windows to Mac it takes up to three years, which is why we are communicating the benefits of Virtual PC.”

Microsoft is driving the idea of ‘two worlds, one solution’ with its Virtual PC software that can be used to integrate the Mac and PC platforms. According to Microsoft research, 92pc of Mac users reported that the ability to share files with Windows users is very important with 81pc wanting to edit and save documents started on another platform, and nearly two thirds looking to change the layout.

Version 7 of Virtual PC is already available to download as are the latest Mac versions of Windows Media Player and Outlook Express.

Mac Office 2004 will come in four basic packages priced the same as their PC equivalents. The Student Licence version, aimed at the home, with a licence for up to three domestic computers, will cost around €190. The Single User Office 2003 Standard version will be €595 with the professional suite expected to come in at around €725. There are optional upgrade paths for all packages and existing users.

By Ian Campbell