The package of word processing, spreadsheet, presentation graphics, and E-mail software is designed for both Intel-based new Macs and older machines that use IBM's Power PC processor.

Aaron Ricadela, Contributor

January 5, 2007

3 Min Read

Microsoft will update its Office productivity suite for Apple users later this year with a new version that for the first time takes advantage of the Intel processors in new Macs. The update, Microsoft's first in three years to the Macintosh version of Office, should help speed graphics processing in PowerPoint and other apps, Microsoft says.

The world's No. 1 software maker said Tuesday at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco that it plans to ship Office 2008 For Mac during the second half of this year. The package of word processing, spreadsheet, presentation graphics, and E-mail software is designed for both the Intel Core chips that power all new Macs, and older Apple Computer machines that use IBM's Power PC processor.

The current version of the software, Office 2004 For Mac, was designed to run natively on Power PC-based Macs; newer Apple machines need to run Office using Apple's Rosetta emulation software. That imposed a performance penalty on users, especially when manipulating graphics in PowerPoint and other programs. "The experience isn't terrible under Rosetta, but Office 2008 is really built for the Intel-based Mac," says Sheridan Jones, a group marketing manager in Microsoft's Macintosh business unit.

The other big change in Office 2008 For Mac is its use of Microsoft's new XML-based file formats for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Using XML makes files smaller and adds the ability for companies to better organize their storehouses of documents, spreadsheets, and slide decks. But the change also requires users of older versions of Office to use special conversion software to open files created with the new software. Microsoft's Office 2007, the newest version for Windows, also uses the XML-based formats. To convert files created with older versions of Office into the new format -- whether downloaded from an E-mail message or pulled from a Mac's hard drive, Apple users will need conversion software that Microsoft says it will make available in beta test form this spring. A final version won't arrive till late this year, however -- two months after Office 2008 for Mac hits shelves. With the beta version, "the user experience might be slightly different," says Jones.

In addition to those under-the-hood changes, the new Mac Office adds features that will be more apparent to users. It sports a redesigned user interface that includes an Elements Gallery meant to collect commands for advanced tasks and minimize the number of clicks needed to perform functions like building tables of contents or cover pages. Unlike the new version of Office for Windows, the Mac suite won't include Microsoft's "Ribbon" toolbar.

In addition, Microsoft has added a desktop publishing layout view in Word, the ability to use Apple's Quartz graphics engine in Office documents, a free-floating calendar and to-do list called My Day, and Excel templates called Ledger Sheets that come pre-populated with formulas for creating an invoice, balancing a checking account, or tracking bills.

Microsoft won't say how much Office 2008 will cost, but the current version of Office for Macs sells for between $150 and $500, depending on the version.

As Microsoft prepares to update the popular Office suite for Mac users, it's also discontinued some of its Mac software as Apple releases similar products. Microsoft stopped making its Internet Explorer Web browser for Macs in 2005 after Apple released its Safari browser. And Microsoft last year said it would stop developing software called Virtual PC For Mac, used to run Windows software on a Mac OS X system. Apple last year released beta software called Boot Camp, which can create a partition on a Mac that can run Windows XP and Windows apps. Apple plans to start installing a final version of Boot Camp on new machines when it releases version 10.5 of its Mac OS X operating system, code named "Leopard," this spring.

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