Microsoft: Seeing the World through Aqua-Colored Glasses

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Kevin Browne made a bold statement this January as Microsoft gave its first public demo of a Mac OS X version of Office. The finished version of the OS X-native office productivity suite wouldn't be a simple port, the general manager of Microsoft's Mac business unit declared -- it would be a significant update that incorporated OS X's features.

Browne proved Thursday that he wasn't kidding.

After a sneak peak during Steve Jobs's Macworld Expo keynote on Wednesday, Office 10 for Mac OS X made its public debut Thursday -- a coming-out party for a major Mac application that, at first glance anyway, seems to have exploited many of the benefits that Apple's next-generation operating system brings to the table.

"It's up to us, the application developers, to deliver on those promises to truly let you get the most of OS X," Browne said.

Office was just one portion -- albeit a major one -- of the picture Microsoft unveiled Thursday. The software giant also announced a new instant-messaging client for the Mac, previewed an OS X-native version of Windows Media Player, and announced a fall release for the finished version of its Carbonized Internet browser.

The steady drumbeat of product announcements was the latest in what's become a familiar mantra whenever Microsoft takes the stage at Macworld Expo: the one-time bane of Mac users' existence wants to develop software that sets the standard for how Mac applications should perform.

"We're as engaged as we've ever been. We've invested as much in the platform as we ever have," Browne said. "I talk to Steve [Jobs] frequently. He yells at me less than ever."

Office's New Look

It's easy to see why when you take a look at Microsoft Office for OS X. The application has adopted the look and feel of the new OS's Aqua interface. Dialog boxes and tool bar items have been redone to look like the buttons and windows in OS X, leaving no doubt that this is a native application.

The interface enhancements also help highlight tools and features in Office that may have been hard for users to find in previous versions. As an example, Browne cited the ability in Word to split the application window, calling the tool that activates that feature in the current version "inscrutable." With the interface enhancements to Office, he added, there's now a "little Aqua widget that helps you to do that."

"What Aqua has allowed us to do is take our applications and make them warm and inviting, make it easy to look at and sit in front of for hours, as we know some of our users do," Browne said.

But the new look goes beyond the surface. Microsoft incorporated OS X's Quartz graphic technology into Office to make graphics created in the application look better and smoother. In Microsoft Excel, for example, users will be able to incorporate gradients and transparencies to liven up charts and graphs, thanks to Quartz.

"This is Photoshop stuff, and we're doing it in Office," Browne said.

Another OS X feature incorporated into Office is Sheets -- a window that only affects the document in which it appears. Sheets replace Office's alerts and dialog boxes, meaning that users will be able to jump to other documents within Office without having to first respond to the sheet.

Beyond OS X

Other features Browne highlighted won't revolutionize the way you use Office, but they could speed up your work in the application. A Multiple Selection and Clear Formatting tool in Word lets you select several blocks of text at once and apply customized formatting. Excel adds keyboard customization features and an AutoRecover feature. PowerPoint will get enhanced effects in the OS X update.

While Browne focused on new features in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, little mention was made of Entourage, the personal-information manager introduced in Office 2001. Work is continuing on updating that application, Microsoft Product Manager Erik Ryan explained after Browne's keynote, and it will be included in Office 10 for Mac OS X.

The latest version of Office will only work on OS X when it's released this fall. While Microsoft hasn't set pricing yet, it plans to offer the productivity suite for $149 to Office 2001 users. Purchasers of Word + Entourage 2001 Special Edition are also eligible for the rebate.

The arrival of a robust OS X-native version of Office would be a big milestone as the Mac platform migrates to the new operating system. One of the things preventing many users from switching to OS X has been the lack of essential, widely used applications, such as Office or graphics and design products from Adobe and Macromedia, that have been rewritten to take advantage of the OS's features. If Office 10 for OS X is well-received when it ships this fall, it could convince Mac users who've balked at installing the new OS to take the plunge.

A Plethora of Products

Internet Explorer is already available for OS X, at least in beta form. But a finished version of the native Internet browser will be included with OS X 10.1; that update is set to ship in September. The browser will include Carbonized browser plug-ins and support for Java. An update to Internet Explorer for Mac OS 8 and 9 users is also set for September; it will include enhancements to the browser's Tasman rendering engine.

The Microsoft keynote also previewed an OS X version of Windows Media Player. The Carbonized application will support Windows Media Digital Rights management, which Microsoft says will give Mac users greater access to audio and video on the Web. The free download should be available in the fall.

The other product profiled by Microsoft Thursday -- MSN Messenger 2.0 -- is available now. The instant-messaging application has been Carbonized, though it will run on OS 8 and later, as well.

To show off the full array of Microsoft's Mac offerings, Browne displayed a product grid that organized each application into categories such as software for productivity, business communication, and personal communication. There was a slot for each of the products showcased Thursday as well as Outlook, the messaging and collaboration client recently released for the Mac.

Noticeably missing from Browne's product grid, however, was Outlook Express, the free e-mail client. Ryan says the future of Outlook Express -- including whether the application will be updated to run natively in OS X -- is under discussion. "The focus is on Office tools and getting them to X," he said.

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