Microsoft has unveiled a range of new Macintosh-exclusive features for its upcoming release of Office 2001 Macintosh Edition. Currently in beta testing, the Macintosh desktop applications suite is scheduled to ship in the second half of this year and will contain features that have never been seen before in Office 2000 for Windows.
Compatibility and ease-of-use was at the forefront of Microsoft's mind while developing Office 2001, said Irving Kwong, product manager at Microsoft's Macintosh business unit. "Office's new features and tools will enable functionality among users of different experience levels and make usage a breeze," he said.
The Office 2001 suite will contain word processor MS Word, spreadsheet Excel, presentation software PowerPoint and a new mail client and PIM (personal information manager) codenamed "Alpaca". The software will also feature a new Project Manager, a centralized location that will offer users access to most Office functions. Also on offer will be 400 customizable templates and wizards, a drastic improvement over the 150 that were part of the Office 98 Macintosh edition.
An interesting addition to Office 2001 will be a formatting palette, a floating window that will consolidate all the tools used to format any Office document. "Instead of going through menu after menu, the formatting pallette will offer users single-click access to formatting a document," Kwong said.
Formerly known as Mail Merge in Word 98, the new Data Merge Manager in Word 2001 will simplify the process of collecting, merging and then mailing or e-mailing the data, all in a single interface.
Excel 2001 will incorporate enhanced list management by converting the spreadsheet cells into manageable data lists, which will make them easier to sort, filter and organize. Excel will also have a calculator and an auto-complete feature that will help populate the cells quicker, according to a Microsoft statement.
PowerPoint 2001 will introduce a new tri-pane interface, giving users access to the slide, outline and notes views all in a single window. "The tri-pane view will enable better editing capabilities and quick transition between slides," said Kwong. In addition to allowing the creation of presentations with new media formats, PowerPoint 2001 will allow users to save presentations in Apple's QuickTime format.
Office 2001's e-mail and PIM software will feature support for Palm handhelds, according to Kwong. "Users will be able to sync their data with Palm handhelds". However, Office 2001 will not feature support for synchronizing data with Microsoft's Pocket PC, the rival to Palm's handheld devices.
"This is incredibly stupid," Rob Enderle, senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group, "but more Mac users have Palms, so it made sense for them (Microsoft) to go the Palm way."
So, the question many users may be asking is whether the new features in Office 2001 will be seen in Office for Windows?
Microsoft's Kwong reasoned the new additions to Office 2001 were purely for the Macintosh, and that "if the Windows developers of Office liked the new features, they could pick them up."
During the development of Office 2001, it was important to keep the needs of Macintosh users in mind because of their fierce loyalty to the platform and its interface, according to Kwong. He referred back to Microsoft's experience with Word 6 for Macintosh and its subsequent failure. "Macintosh users didn't like the fact that Word 6 for Macintosh looked and felt like its Windows counterpart," he said. "No wonder it failed."
Giga's Enderle saw no ulterior motive behind Microsoft's move in first introducing new features in the Macintosh version of Office as opposed to one running on the company's own Windows operating system.
Responding urgently to customer demands required Microsoft's Macintosh development group to be first to toe the innovation line ahead of the Windows development group for Office, Enderle said.
"In fact, Microsoft's Windows and Macintosh development units of Office are independent of each other," he said. "They have different agendas, are physically separated and share very little code between them."
Microsoft intends to ship software to support Apple's upcoming OS X operating system, said Mary Rose Becker, product manager at Microsoft's Macintosh business unit.
A version of Office for OS X should ship in the middle of 2001, while Microsoft's Web browser Internet Explorer version 5.5 for OS X will appear in the second half of 2001, she added.