Microsoft: Next Mac Office due late 2010 with Outlook

Microsoft announced Thursday that the next edition of Microsoft Office for Mac will be released in late 2010. The new edition of the venerable office suite will include Outlook for Mac, a new application that will replace Entourage.

“We’ll bring forward all the functionality from the Entourage Web Services Edition, including public folders, managed folders, and category syncing, but with Outlook we’re going even further and building a whole new application,” said Microsoft Mac Business Unit general manager Eric Wilfrid.

Wilfrid said that Microsoft will create Outlook for Mac using Apple’s modern Cocoa development frameworks, rather than the older Carbon system used by previous Office applications because of their legacy of having been originally developed for the Classic Mac OS.

“We’re building on the most modern OS X frameworks to make Outlook beautiful, to make it high performance, and to make it well integrated with the OS,” Wilfrid said.

Entourage has long been criticized for its large database, which is difficult to back up and can cause serious downtime if it gets corrupted. Wilfrid said that the new Outlook will use a new, modern database instead of the one used by Entourage.

“The new database gives us incredible reliability, better performance, and better integration with technologies such as Time Machine for backup and Spotlight for search,” he said.

Wilfrid emphasized that while Outlook for Mac won’t be a feature-for-feature match with Outlook on Windows, Outlook for Mac will be extremely compatible. “Outlook for Mac and Outlook for Windows work great together, and work great in an Exchange environment,” he said.

Among the features Wilfrid highlighted in Outlook for Mac is support for information rights management, which enables organizations “to support cross-platform technologies to manage sensitive and confidential information.”

Outlook for Mac will be included in the next version of Office for Mac, which Wilfrid said is “on track” for the holiday season in late 2010. Microsoft previously announced that Visual Basic will return in that edition, after being removed from Office 2008, which was released in Janaury 2008.

In a separate announcement, Wilfrid said Microsoft was simplifying its current Office 2008 offerings, going from three different editions down to two. The existing Home and Student edition will remain.

Replacing the $399 Standard Edition and $499 Special Media Edition is the new $399 Business Edition, which will include the Web Services Edition of Entourage and Microsoft Document Connection for Mac. Microsoft Office 2008 Business Edition also includes additional templates and clip art, and more than eight hours of Lynda.com training videos.

Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret, said that with Macs becoming a more viable option for the enterprise, it is an important move for Microsoft to make its Mac version of Office more on par with its Windows version for those users.

However, Apple’s next version of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, will include native support for Exchange Server when it’s released next month, which means business users can connect to Exchange data via Apple's built-in Mail, iCal, and Address Book applications. With this move imminent, Microsoft’s inclusion of Outlook in Office for Mac at the end of next year might be too little, too late, he said.

“Apple is going after business users with these types of features,” Gartenberg said of native Exchange support. “There are still some things Outlook could offer that Apple’s integration with Exchange might not offer—we’ll have to see. But it will be more than a year [after Snow Leopard]. That’s going to give Apple a pile of time to evangelize to folks.”

Microsoft has definitely been feeling the pressure on its Office business not only from Apple’s gains in PC market share, but also from free or low-cost competitive applications from Google and others. In fact, Thursday’s announcement was the second the company made this week to expand its Office business, which next to Windows remains the main profit driver at Microsoft.

On Wednesday, Microsoft and Nokia unveiled a deal to put Office applications on Nokia’s Symbian-based mobile devices, a move that will help Microsoft reach more mobile business users with its Office Mobile suite. The software currently only runs on Windows Mobile devices, which have less market share than Nokia’s Symbian handsets.

Elizabeth Montalbano of IDG News Service contributed to this report.

[Updated at 11:47 a.m. PT to include comments from analyst Michael Gartenberg. Updated at 1:48 p.m. to correct statement about Snow Leopard compatibility with Exchange.]

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