Microsoft has boosted compatibility between its applications and the Macintosh platform, and plans to ship Microsoft Office for the Mac OS X as early as September or October of this year, a Microsoft executive said during a keynote at the Macworld Conference and Expo here Wednesday. Kevin Browne, general manager of Microsoft's Macintosh business unit, also drew vigorous applause from the Apple faithful here when he announced the availability of a beta version of Microsoft Outlook 2001 for the Mac. "I wish I could say you were clapping because we have been doing great work," he said. "This has not been an area where we have given our best, up to this point." The new version of Microsoft Outlook may go a long way toward assuring users of Microsoft's commitment to the Mac. Both the beta version, as well as the final release of the product due for release mid-year, are fully compatible with Microsoft Outlook's Windows version, Browne said. By simplifying the network configuration process, Microsoft Outlook 2001 has been designed to make it easier for IT managers to set up Outlook 2001 applications for their network. The product also checks that a user is properly set up on the network to enter information into Microsoft Outlook 2001. "It is not just the data compatibility that is important," Browne said. "We have worked hard to make this a first class Mac app." But the highlight of Browne's keynote address was the unveiling of the Microsoft Office suite for the Mac OS X. This version of Office should take advantage of the fluid Mac OS X interface, and Microsoft will do its best to emulate the operating system's easy access to menus and multimedia applications - two of the main features built into Mac OS X. "Microsoft loves Mac OS X, at least our division does," Browne said. "Some of the other people might be sweating a bit." Office for the Mac OS X is not an upgrade, but rather an extensive retooling of the suite designed to take advantage of the Mac OS X main features. Microsoft will try to add in some of the multimedia capabilities of OS X and build in several Mac-only features. To help spur interest in the software, Browne announced a discount for Office 2001 for the Mac OS X. If users buy the current Office suite for the Mac OS, they will receive an upgrade for the OS X version at half price. Instead of the estimated US$299 upgrade, users would pay $149, Browne said. During his demonstration, Browne showed a Word application that often malfunctioned. The software broke down at points, and Browne said his team had only worked on Office for Mac OS X for a couple of months.