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.
It is similar to the Ribbon user interface in Office 2007, but designed specifically for the Mac and to make it easier for customers to find the features they need in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, she said.
For example, in Word there are document elements allowing users to snap together cover pages and easily create bibliographies. Word 2008 also comes with a new Mac-only tool known as Publishing Layout View, which lets users easily lay out rich types of documents, drop in images and apply effects using a range of templates provided.
Another Mac-only tool is the My Day stand-alone application found in the personal information manager known as Entourage, which allows users to manage their day, schedule meetings and add tasks, and that runs even when Entourage is closed.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, believes that Office 2008 for the Mac actually showcases the Mac operating system better than Office 2007 for Windows showcases Vista .
“This is one of the weird things about this product in that the collaboration between Microsoft and Apple, as tortured as it is, often seems better than the collaboration inside Microsoft between the Windows and Office teams, Enderle said.
“What slowed this product down a lot was the lack of heads up when Apple moved to Intel, which meant the Mac Office team started very late in the process and was likely forced to redo a great deal of work. Still, what resulted is stunning, and one of the best Apple showcase products,” he told eWEEK.
Excel 2008 includes Ledger Sheets in its Elements Gallery, which are pre-formulated worksheets to help users accomplish common budget and financial management tasks.
The core Office 2008 for Mac comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage. It is also Microsoft Exchange enabled, and includes some Automator tools.
It is priced at $399.95 for a single license, while an upgrade version costs $239.95 and allows an upgrade from any version of Office for the Mac, as well as from any stand-alone application like Word.
Office 2008 for Mac Home and Student edition does not include Exchange support or the Automator tools, but does have three licenses for home use at a price of $149.95.
Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition, which is priced at $499.95, or $299.95 for an upgrade, has all the features of the core edition, but also includes the Expressions Media digital asset management tools, Lefebvre said.