Currently in beta testing, the Macintosh desktop applications suite is scheduled to ship in the second half of this year.
Compatibility and ease of use were at the forefront of Microsoft's mind while developing Office 2001, says Irving Kwong, product manager at Microsoft's Macintosh business unit.
The Office 2001 suite will contain Word, Excel, PowerPoint presentation software, and a new mail client and personal information manager code-named Alpaca.
The software suite will also feature a new Project Manager, a centralised location that will offer users access to most Office functions, and a formatting palette - a floating window that will consolidate all the tools used to format any Office document.
"Instead of going through menu after menu, the formatting palette will offer users single-click access to formatting a document," Kwong says.
Office 2001 will also contain 400 customisable templates and wizards, a drastic improvement over the 150 that were part of the Office 98 Macintosh edition.
Excel 2001 will incorporate enhanced list management by converting the spreadsheet cells into manageable data lists, which will make them easier to sort, filter, and organise. Excel will also have a calculator and an auto-complete feature that will help populate the cells quicker, according to a Microsoft statement.
PowerPoint 2001 will introduce a new tri-pane interface, giving users access to the slide, outline, and notes views all in a single window. In addition to allowing the creation of presentations with new media formats, PowerPoint 2001 will allow users to save presentations in Apple Computer's QuickTime format.
Office 2001's email and PIM software will feature support for Palm handhelds, according to Kwong. "Users will be able to sync their data with Palm handhelds," he says.
However, Office 2001 will not feature support for synchronising data with Microsoft's Pocket PC, the rival to Palm's handheld devices, a move that has drawn some criticism.
"This is incredibly stupid," says Rob Enderle, senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group. "But more Mac users have Palms, so it made sense for [Microsoft] to go the Palm way."
Will the new features in Office 2001 ever be seen in Office for Windows?
Microsoft's Kwong says they were aimed purely at the Macintosh. It was important to keep the needs of Macintosh users in mind because of their fierce loyalty to the platform, Kwong says, referring back to Microsoft's experience with Word 6 for Macintosh and its subsequent failure.
"Macintosh users didn't like the fact that Word 6 for Macintosh looked and felt like its Windows counterpart," he says. "No wonder it failed."
Microsoft intends to ship software to support Apple's upcoming OS X operating system, says Mary Rose Becker, product manager at Microsoft's Macintosh business unit.
A version of Office for OS X should ship in the middle of 2001, while Microsoft's Web browser Internet Explorer version 5.5 for OS X will appear in the second half of 2001, she adds.