Microsoft Office polished for Apple's new OS

At the semiannual Macworld Expo Thursday, Microsoft offered a sneak peak at its Office software for Apple Computer's new Mac OS X operating system, and announced the availability of its Mac-based MSN Messenger software and Windows Media Player.

Microsoft said it doesn't plan to ship the new office productivity suite until sometime in the third quarter. The company is waiting for Apple to release its anticipated update to Mac OS X -- due in September -- before releasing the final version, according to Kevin Browne, Microsoft's general manager in charge of the Macintosh division.

"We have to fix a lot of bugs, improve our features and get them working as they should," Browne said.

While the company whet the appetites of many of its Mac users by showing off the software package, an imminent release is not expected. "We've never done a release of Office in less than a year," following a previous release, Browne said. Office 2001 for Mac -- the latest version available to consumers -- was released last October. That points to an October 2001 release.

"So far we're on target to hit that," Browne said. He expects Microsoft will announce a specific date in the next few weeks.

Office 10 for Mac OS X is, effectively, the Macintosh equivalent of Office XP, the latest productivity suite to come out of Redmond, Washington. The Macintosh version, which includes Microsoft Word, Excel, the Entourage e-mail application and PowerPoint, features many of the same functions as the Windows version.

Browne said the initial version of Office 10 for the Mac won't include Microsoft's Smart Tags technology, however, one of the leading new features in Office XP.

"We're very interested in doing Smart Tag technology but we didn't do it this time," Browne said. "We will add it some day; probably the next major release."

Office 10 for the Mac will also include a number of Mac-only features, such as a look and feel that closely resembles Apple's "Aqua" interface. Similarly, the software takes advantage of Apple's Quartz 2D graphics engine, designed to let users create advanced graphics on Excel and Word.

The new version of the software will have a tough time outselling its predecessors. Browne said Microsoft has sold 500,000 copies of Office 2001, 3.5 million copies of Office 98, and less than 500,000 copies of Office 4.2 for the Mac, which was released in 1995.

In addition to outlining the new Office package, Microsoft made available for download Thursday its MSN Messenger 2.0, which will run on Mac operating systems 8.0 and later.

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Matt Berger

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