Microsoft gets cozier with Mac OS X

Microsoft is taking more aggressive steps to promote its desktop office productivity software to users of Apple Computer's Mac OS X.

The company announced Tuesday at the Macworld Conference and Expo two promotional offers intended to make Office v. X for Mac appealing to Apple customers.

The Redmond, Washington, software maker said it has signed a deal with Apple to install a 30-day trial version of Office v. X for Mac on all new Macintosh computers. That trial software, known as Office Test Drive, is a full-function version of Microsoft's productivity software but lacks the ability to print documents.

"It gives users a chance to kick the tires of Office," said Scott Erickson, product manager with Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU). He said hundreds of thousands of users have downloaded the test drive kit or received a free copy of the software since it first became available a year ago. "It's been really helpful for customers," he added.

Apple and Microsoft have also introduced a US$300 instant rebate for customers around the world who purchase Office v. X for Mac when they also buy a new Mac computer. Microsoft has branded its latest marketing effort "Office Romance," but is essentially duplicating a similar deal to purchase Office v. X for Mac for US$199 with the purchase of new hardware. The deal runs through April 7 in North America, Japan and Australia.

These efforts to introduce the software to Mac users is the latest sign that Microsoft may be struggling to spur sales of the Mac productivity software, which has had lackluster success, according to Rob Enderle, research fellow with Giga Information Group Inc.

"I do think that Microsoft is starting to say, 'If we don't build a bigger market for this, then we're going to have to exit the market,'" Enderle said. "The volume of (Office v. X for Mac) sales has been well below expectations."

Microsoft and Apple have shared a development relationship for five years, with Microsoft committing an entire business unit to creating Mac software. However, some have questioned that relationship because the two companies decided not to renew a contract that bound Microsoft to produce software for Apple's operating system.

Erickson said Tuesday that Microsoft remains "extremely committed" to the Mac platform.

Microsoft also announced that it will sell Entourage, its e-mail and personal information management software for Mac OS X, as a standalone product. It previously was available only as part of Office v. X for Mac, along with Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Microsoft currently sells standalone versions of those three Office applications.

For US$99, Mac users will be able to purchase the e-mail management software, which is equivalent to Microsoft's Outlook software for Windows users. The move to pull Entourage apart from the Office bundle comes just as Apple has begun to promote its own e-mail software as well as a new calendaring application called iCal.

Finally, Microsoft showed off to journalists a sneak preview of MSN for Mac, a new application that Microsoft is set to release early this year to bring its MSN Internet service to Mac users. Similar to MSN 8 for Windows users, MSN for Mac is a hybrid Internet access application that brings together Web browsing, e-mail, digital media and other Internet features into a single interface.

The e-mail component of the software includes features such as junk mail filters, as well as parental control features that allow parents to monitor Web sites their kids visit and a weekly update of sent and received e-mails and instant messages, according to Mary Starman, lead product manager at Microsoft.

Microsoft is preparing the release of its Web browsing and Internet service software to run on Mac computers running Mac OS X operating system 10.1 and above. The software will cost the same as MSN 8 for Windows PCs: US$9.95 per month for users who have their own Internet service providers, $21.95 a month for MSN Internet dial-up subscribers and as low as $39.95 a month for MSN Internet broadband customers.

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