MACWORLD - New Office for Mac coming

Office for Mac users who've been wondering about a new version -- and Office 2007 compatibility -- got some answers on Tuesday as Microsoft said it will ship Office for Mac 2008 by year's end.

At MacWorld in San Francisco, officials of Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit also announced plans for spring delivery of beta versions of converters that will allow the current version of the popular suite, Office for Mac 2004, to open, edit, and save files in Office 2007's new default XML formats for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. The final converters will appear six to eight weeks after Office for Mac 2008 ships, Microsoft says.

Office for Mac 2008 will appear in the second half of this year and will be fully compatible with both Intel- and PowerPC-based Macs, said Geoff Price, product unit manager for Microsoft's Mac Business Unit.

The new version doesn't duplicate Office 2007's interface overhaul. Price said Office for Mac has historically followed Mac design conventions -- for example, it uses palettes to do some of the work the new ribbon interface does in Office 2007.

Thumbnails illustrate options

But Price added that, like their Windows counterparts, Office for Mac designers did seek to make the suite's existing features more accessible. To that end, Office for the Mac 2008 introduces an Elements Gallery -- basically a slim taskbar with several entries that runs beneath the basic toolbar in the current interface.

Clicking on an entry produces a drop-down bar of visual options. For example, an entry for a new feature called Document Parts produces thumbnails of a template-like title page, table of contents, and so on. Price says they differ from templates in that are not static documents; rather, they incorporate themes and styles.

Some of the entries in the Elements Gallery are specific to the application; others appear in several of the suite's apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage. For example, SmartArt Graphics -- which are fully compatible with the concept-expressing graphic elements in Office 2007 -- appear in several Elements Galleries. In fact, Office for Mac 2008 shares the Office Art 2.0 graphics engine introduced in Office 2007.

New features for Mac version

Price also mentioned some innovations that pertain to specific Mac apps. My Day, for example, is a stand-alone applet that provides easy and quick access to the day's appointments and to-do list without requiring that you launch Entourage, which is Office for Mac's answer to Outlook in the Windows versions of Office.

Excel, meanwhile, comes with Ledger Sheets, which are preconfigured worksheets for common and simple financial calculations.

The new Publishing Layout View provides easy access to desktop publishing tools to help users create common business-oriented publications such as brochures and newsletters.

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