Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac hits the streets January 15 after close to four years under development and a year after Microsoft released Office 2007 for the PC.
"What we tried to achieve with Office 2008 for the Mac is to help users get their work done more simply, and compatibility was a big driver here. Everyone is looking for the product to deliver great compatibility," Amanda Lefebvre, the marketing manager for Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, told eWEEK.
Compatibility is important for those users who share documents across platforms, she said, noting that the product works natively on both Power PCs and Intel-based Macs and that speed has been improved across-the-board, Lefebvre said.
This latest version of Office for Mac also shares the Open XML file format found in the Office 2007 System family of products.
"A lot of the work we did on this release was on the file format to ensure that users had a good compatibility experience. While this is new and users will have to figure out how to work with it, overall it will be a pretty seamless experience for customers," she said.
Asked how compatibility would work between documents in the current Office 2004 for Mac format and the new Open XML format in the 2008 product, Lefebvre said the team had created downloadable converters for Word and PowerPoint, both of which were in beta format, with an update for Excel expected to be delivered soon.
"Office 2008 users can also save to these older file formats, and we expect to be able to deliver an integrated converter for 2004 in the first half of the year, which will give a seamless experience as documents will be automatically converted behind the scenes," she said.
Office 2008 for Mac also shares the same graphics engine as the 2007 Office System, allowing it to take advantage of the graphics tools and effects like glows, shines and reflections, as well as the Smart Art tools, which allows graphics to be shared between people working on the same documents.
The Office for Mac team had also re-engineered the product's user interface, which now includes the Elements Gallery, a visual thumbnail of design, format and other options and which is essentially a one-click tool to create professional documents, Lefebvre said.