Microsoft Tunes Mac OS X Software

Microsoft Office v. X Service Release 1 taps capabilities of a hitherto-unannounced update to Mac OS X. On other Mac fronts, Microsoft rolled out Version 3.0 of its Messenger IM application and announced new Palm synchronization for its Entourage PIM.

Microsoft Corp. today delivered two free upgrades aimed at Mac users: a tweak to the Mac OS X version of its Office suite that takes advantage of a hitherto-unannounced upgrade to Apple Computer Inc.s OS and Version 3.0 of its MSN Messenger instant-messaging package.

Both Microsoft Office v. X Service Release 1 and MSN Messenger 3.0 for Mac can be downloaded from Microsofts Mactopia Web site.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced free software to synchronize Palm handhelds and Office v. Xs Entourage PIM software; the new utility will be available for download July 15.

Microsoft Office v. X Service Release 1, the first significant update to the productivity suite since its debut in November 2001, exploits new onscreen text-smoothing capabilities built into the Quartz imaging layer of Mac OS X 10.1.5, which Microsoft said is also slated to ship today.

Like the previous release of Microsoft Office v. X, the suite requires only Mac OS X 10.1 or higher. However, users who install the latest version of Apples Unix-based OS will be able to use Quartz to capitalize on enhanced text rendering in all the components of Office v. X, which include Entourage, the Excel spreadsheet, the Word word processor and the PowerPoint presentation package.

Although Microsoft made no announcements about Internet Explorer, sources said a forthcoming Mac OS X version of the browser will also take advantage of the Quartz enhancement. Microsoft officials were not immediately available to comment on plans for Internet Explorer.

In addition, Excel X users can now import the contents of FileMaker databases from local or shared databases and refresh database queries made in Excel 98 through Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) integration. Users of Excel, Word or PowerPoint can paste customized images onto toolbar buttons.

Microsoft said the update includes more than 1,500 performance enhancements to the Office suite, which has been tuned to Mac OS Xs Carbon APIs.

According to Erik Ryan, Office v. X product manager with Microsofts Mac Business Unit, boosts include overall faster performance of the Mac OS X genie effect in tools palettes as well as speedier printing. Picture caching now loads "much faster" in PowerPoint, Ryan said, and transparency effects are quicker in PowerPoint slideshows. Entourage databases now accommodate 4GB of data, up from 2GB, and Excel chart performance is now four times faster.

As for compatibility with Jaguar, the next major rev of Mac OS X that Apple has promised to deliver this summer: "Apple has promised that everything will be fine," Ryan said, "and we expect [the Office applications] to work fine."

MSN Messenger 3.0 Abhisht Arora said the new version of the IM software, which has also been tailored to Apples Carbon APIs, features better support for Mac OS Xs Aqua interface.

It also lets users transfer files of unlimited size to others on their Buddy lists, import and export contact lists, organize contacts into groups, and open a drop-down box to access an enhanced roster of emoticons.

A resizable toolbar is exclusive to Mac OS X, and Unicode support makes the upgrade "internationally fluent" in a variety of alphabets, Arora said. Quartz imaging improves the display of onscreen text.

At Mays Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the Jaguar release of Mac OS X will include iChat, a homegrown IM product based on AOL Instant Messenger, not MSN Messenger.

Nevertheless, Arora predicted that the cross-platform popularity of MSN Messenger and the new Mac OS X enhancements will afford Version 3.0 a strategic niche on the platform. "Messenger 3.0 brings a significant number of new, much-desired features to the Mac platform," he said. "Its one step in an effort to continually add enhancements to this program."

Todays announcements follow a recent media event hosted by Microsoft MacBU General Manager Kevin Browne explicitly intended to allay any concerns that the Redmond, Wash., company might stray from the Mac. During that event, Browne stated that, aside from a few maintenance releases the groups products would henceforth eschew Mac OS 9 in favor of Mac OS X.