Playing Nice with Microsoft

In the business world, Microsoft has earned a reputation as a bruising competitor. This is a company, after all, that gave away its Internet Explorer and Outlook Express products for free, rather than cede any competitive ground to its rivals. But on the Mac platform, at least, Microsoft is turning out to be one of the best partners Mac developers could hope for. Along with its partners, Microsoft has chosen Expo to emphasize the tighter integration between Office 2001 and complementary business applications from other vendors.

In the next three months, expect a barrage of promotions and co-marketing aimed at the small business customer. Microsoft sees the changes as means of adding value to its products, as well as demonstrating its commitment not only to the platform, but to serving customers.

During Microsoft's Wednesday keynote speech, Kevin Browne, Manager of the Macintosh Business Unit, invited MYOB on stage to demonstrate the integration of Office 2001 into its small business management software, AccountEdge. Features such as the Card List, the Contact Log, and Mailing Labels contain strategically placed buttons that launch Office applications. For example, you can search for a specific contact in the Contact Log, and then simply click on a button on the contact's card that launches Entourage and creates a mail message with the correct e-mail address entered. More impressively, you can convert an invoice in AccountEdge into a PDF file and create a mail message in Entourage with the invoice already attached, all with the click of a single button. In addition, the Reports feature allows you to utilize any of 160 specialized Excel templates.

"The key word is interoperability. Having these products work with each other and talk with each other creates an unbeatable small-business management solution," said Tom Nash, MYOB's Director of Product Management, during the keynote.

The company also highlighted three other products in particular and awarded their respective vendors with a special place in the Microsoft booth:

MacSpeech demonstrated the capabilities of iListen 1.0, a new voice-recognition program that works with any text-processing application. The utility is preloaded with automated voice commands for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage. The extensive list contains anywhere from 30 to 50 of the most popular commands in each application. iListen is now shipping. A boxed version costs $109.95.

Aladdin Systems , the creators of StuffIt Deluxe, is in the process of developing a set of file compression plug-ins for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The plug-ins add two new commands to the File menu of each application: Stuff and Stuff and Mail. The latter command instantaneously compresses the open file, creates a new mail message in Entourage, and attaches the compressed file as a StuffIt document. The plug-ins are currently in beta, and a ship date has not been announced.

Palm demonstrated the ability of Entourage to synchronize data with Palm devices without the use of any additional software. At the touch of a HotSync button, you can synchronize your Entourage Address Book with your Palm Address Book, your Entourage Calendar with your Palm Date Book, your Entourage Tasks with your Palm To Do, and your Entourage Notes with your Palm Memo Pad. (At press time, however, some users have reported that the feature creates duplicate entries in Entourage.)

Similarly, the latest version of FileMaker Pro allows for data support for Excel, mail merges in Word, and mail merges in Entourage. Microsoft also cited Office 2001's picture tools as a set of features that could be expanded into other applications in the future.

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