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Microsoft May Ship Next Mac Office By 2010

Support for Visual Basic for Applications also will be restored in the next version of Office for Mac, Microsoft says.

Mac users won't have to wait another four years for the next version of Microsoft Office. A company official said Tuesday that the software maker plans on delivering the successor to Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac by January, 2011, at the latest, and possibly as early as January, 2010.

Microsoft also plans to restore support for Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in the next version, which will likely be called Office 2010 for Mac, or Office 2011 for Mac -- depending on the exact ship date.

"We're on a two to three year lifecycle," said Amanda Lefebvre, senior marketing manager at Microsoft's Mac Business Unit, in an interview. "We were a little beyond that for our last round," she conceded.

Indeed, a series of delays meant that Mac users who purchased Mac Office 2004 had to wait four years for the next version -- Mac Office 2008, which shipped on January 15. It's the first version of the desktop suite to run natively on Intel- and Power PC-based Macs, but its development was set back by quality control issues.

Microsoft's MacBU, which currently houses about 200 employees, is aggressively hiring developers, programmers and testers -- in part to ensure that the next Mac Office is developed on time and is cross-compatible with the Windows version, said Lefebvre.

"It's really about delivering full compatibility, at the file format level," she said.

Lefebvre added that some of the new hires will be tasked with restoring support for VBA in the Mac Office environment. "It will be a big piece of work," she said. Microsoft dropped VBA support in Mac Office 2008, but the move drew complaints from business customers who use the language to create macros for Excel and other applications.

MacBU workers are also developing tools that will ensure that Mac Office can be more tightly integrated into corporate Windows environments that run Microsoft's Exchange Server and Unified Communications Server, said Lefebvre. "It's about connecting in with the greater Microsoft environment and driving improved experiences," she said.

It's a sound strategy. Industry research reveals that Macs are showing up with increasing frequency in business offices, once the sole preserve of Windows desktops. Nearly 80% of businesses now have at least some Macintoshes in their offices, almost twice as many as two years ago, according to Yankee Group.

Increasing Mac sales are, naturally, helping to boost sales of Mac Office. Microsoft sold more than three times the number of licenses for Mac Office 2008 during its first four months on the market than it did for Mac Office 2004 during the comparable period.

Beyond developing applications for the Mac, Microsoft's MacBU isn't ruling out building programs for other popular Apple platforms, such as the iPhone and the iPod. "We're always investigating possibilities," said Lefebvre, who added, however, that "we have nothing to announce at this time."

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