Microsoft Preps More Exchange Ties for Mac Office

The company's Mac group outlines greater Exchange support in Entourage 2004, along with plans for the upcoming MSN Messenger for Mac 5.0, which connects with Live Communications Server.

SAN FRANCISCO—On the same day that Apple introduced a new productivity suite, Microsoft Corp. promised continued enhancements to its Office suite for the Mac.

One major improvement coming in the second half of the year is greater support in the Entourage 2004 e-mail client for Microsofts widely used Exchange messaging server, Microsoft announced Tuesday during the Macworld conference and expo here.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker also announced plans for a new MSN Messenger for the Mac for the first half of the year and for Office to work with upcoming features of Mac OS X Tiger.

In its update, Entourage 2004 will gain the ability to view shared Exchange calendars and will deepen support for Exchange directories and public folders, said Scott Erickson, group product manager for Microsofts Macintosh business unit.

Entourage replaced Outlook 2001 as Microsofts e-mail client on the Mac, starting with the release of Office v. X for Mac in 2001. With the shift, the client lost much of its Exchange support, and Microsoft has been slow to add it back.

"Particularly in the mixed platform shops, and there are a lot of those out there, improved Exchange support is important," said Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst at Jupitermedia Corp.s Jupiter Research.

The current Office suite, released in May, includes Word 2004 for word processing; Excel 2004 for spreadsheets; PowerPoint 2004 for presentations; Entourage 2004 for e-mail, contacts and calendaring; and MSN Messenger for instant messaging.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read an eWEEK Labs review of Office 2004 for Mac.

The updated Entourage also will be able to search for contacts in Exchanges global address list with partial names, will provide management tools for when a user reaches a mailbox quota, and will provide a conversation view of messages in public folders, Erickson said.

In another move aimed at corporate users, Microsoft launched a beta of an import tool for moving Outlook 2001 files stored offline, or .PST files, to Entourage 2004. The tool should be available as a free download in the second half of the year, Erickson said.

Earlier in the day, Apple CEO Steve Jobs touted Apples plans to replace its outdated AppleWorks suite with the new iWork package that will combine the Keynote 2 presentation software and a word processor called Pages.

Apples new productivity suite could compete with Office for Mac, but Jupiters Wilcox said he expects the two suites to largely target different markets. iWork likely will appeal more to small companies and individuals users, while Office will continue to be an enterprises mainstay.

"If theres any market where iWork and Office would butt heads, its the [small and midsized business] market," Wilcox said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifCan the Mac do without Office? Click here to read an opinion from contributing columnist David Coursey.

Erickson said the relationship between Microsoft and Apple remains strong. Microsoft, in fact, made overtures to Mac OS X Tiger, due out in the first half of the year.

The Spotlight desktop search feature in Tiger will index Office 2004 for Mac files, and Tigers device syncing capabilities will work with Entourage 2004, Erickson said.

On the IM front, MSN Messenger for Mac 5.0 will support Microsofts enterprise instant-messaging and presence server, Live Communications Server, said Amanda Freeman, a product manager with the Mac business unit. For example, that support will allow Mac users to view presence information of LCS users.

The MSN Messenger update also will provide a tabbed interface to separate personal and corporate IM contacts.

Mac users have complained in the past that Microsoft lags in bringing features from MSN Messenger for Windows to the Mac client. The Windows version provides video capabilities, for instance, while the Mac client does not.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about whats missing in the current MSN Messenger for Mac release.

But Freeman said MSN Messenger 5.0 will gain some features from the Windows client. Specifically, it will include the ability to personalize contacts by adding images to identify them.

"Its not exactly at parity," Freeman said of the upcoming Mac IM client. "[But] were continuing to add new features, and Mac Messenger customers are very vocal."

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