Macworld: Microsoft unveils Office 2004, Virtual PC 7

Microsoft Corp.'s Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) on Tuesday will unveil the next major upgrade to the company's Office suite of products. The applications included in the Office suite will get some major updates, but users won't be able to get Office 2004 until sometime in the first half of the 2004.

Speaking with MacCentral, Tim McDonough, director of marketing for the Macintosh Business Unit, said that Microsoft identified three areas its customers wanted improved in a new version of Office: Managing information; creating files so they look the same on the screen as they do on the computer; and the ability to share information with others.

To allow users to better manage information in Office 2004, Microsoft has created Project Center as a part of Entourage. Project Center allows you to view e-mails, files, contacts, meetings and tasks related to a particular project all in one place. The user can setup a project and define criteria for the information they want to include in each project through a setup wizard and then view each project separately. Information or criteria for a project can be added or deleted at any time without deleting the actual email message or file -- Entourage simple points to each file, but doesn't copy the file to the project.

Word will come with a new view called Notebook, which will resemble ruled notebook paper. The Notebook view will not only enable users to jot notes, but also include calendar events, set priorities and have unlimited tabs to organize information. The Notebook view will also allow you to record audio directly into the notebook -- for instance, if you're in a meeting taking notes, you can click the record button to record the meeting and attach it to a note to listen to later.

A new Scrapbook feature will allow users to save text, logos, pictures and other types of media in a central location that can be used in a project a later time. The Excel Page Layout view will show you onscreen exactly what you will see on paper when a spreadsheet or chart is printed, including margins, headers, footers and page layout. The layout view in Excel also allows for manipulation of the information or media.

The last of the three areas Microsoft worked on for Office 2004 is the ability for users to share their information. Office will include a sharing button that will allow you to upload projects to a server or your .Mac account -- at this time McDonough said he was not sure how the interaction with the online information would be for users.

With so many versions of Office products available on Windows and Macintosh machines, Office 2004 will include a Compatibility Checker. When you are ready to share a project or document, you can run the Compatibility Checker against a variety of Office versions to see if anyone in your group will have a problem viewing any special media or formatting. The compatibility reports will also give you information on what exactly the problem is and the option to automatically fix the problems before sharing.

Microsoft will be offering three versions of Office 2004:

  • Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac Standard Edition. This includes Word 2004, Excel 2004, PowerPoint 2004, Entourage 2004 and MSN Messenger Version 4.0.
  • Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac Student and Teacher Edition. This is the same offering as Standard Edition, but is available for a discounted price for qualified students and teachers.
  • Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac Professional Edition. This is the same offering as Standard Edition, but also includes Microsoft Virtual PC for Mac Version 7 with Windows XP Professional.
  • Customers who purchase Office v. X from January 6, 2004 until 30 days after the release of Office 2004 will be eligible for a free upgrade -- you will be required to pay for the shipping and handling. Other pricing details were not available as this story was posted.

    McDonough would not go into much detail on the next version of Virtual PC for Mac, but did say that version 7.0 would be available in the first half of this calendar year. The new version will include enhancements over the current version 6.1, including performance and usability improvements, as well as compatibility with the Macintosh G5. No pricing information was available.

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