Microsoft Office v. X is on time for Apple

Treat: Software update provides a strong argument for Mac users to switch to the company's new operating system.

November 26, 2001|By David Zeiler | David Zeiler,SUN STAFF

For Apple, Microsoft Office v. X is the right software at the right time - a well-polished, critical Mac application designed to show off all the best features of Mac OS X when Apple needs to give Mac users good reasons to switch to the new operating system.

This version runs only on Apple's fancy new operating system, Mac OS X 10.1. Functionally, it doesn't add much to the feature list of its previous incarnation, Office 2001 for Mac, released just a year ago. Instead, the team at Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit concentrated on rewriting the code so the program would fully integrate with, and take advantage of, all the features Mac OS X provides.

Having used a pre-release version of the software for several weeks now, I can say the MBU achieved its goal.

Office v. X, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the Mac-only e-mail/calendar program Entourage, blends naturally into Mac OS X's Aqua interface. Microsoft took care to reflect OS X's delicious graphic touches, creating 700 new "aquified" toolbar icons and embracing the new look of the operating system's dialog boxes.

Office v. X also utilizes the Mac OS X's Quartz drawing layer, which improves graphics in Office by using anti-aliasing (smoothing) and allowing transparency in charts and clip art.

Though not heavy on new features, Office v. X is enhanced. Entourage, introduced with Office 2001, got the biggest makeover, with a better calendar and address book. A sampling of other new features: Word can now select chunks of text in different parts of a document for formatting or spellchecking; Excel gets a "first-for-the-Mac" embedded calculator; PowerPoint can collect and save all media for a presentation in a single folder.

Office v. X also includes a little application sure to strike fear into the hearts of many Mac users: MSN Messenger 2.1.

While this may seem like a nice added feature, MSN Messenger is designed to integrate with Office v. X, particularly the Entourage mail client and Microsoft's upcoming .NET services. When you launch Messenger, it even prompts you to set up a Microsoft Passport account.

Tech-savvy readers will recall that .NET is Microsoft's name for its Internet strategy that entails storing various bits of volunteered personal information from users for the purpose of enabling a broad range of internet-related services, such as automated news alerts and simplified shopping.

The thought of Microsoft storing such personal information from potentially millions of users has caused much consternation in the PC world. Most Mac users thought they were safe, but the inclusion of MSN Messenger in Office v. X makes it clear that Microsoft intends to extend its .NET strategy to Mac desktops as well. Consider yourself warned.

As with Office 2001, Office v. X is fully compatible with all recent versions of Office, from Office 97 for Windows to the new Office XP, as well as with previous Mac versions of the software. This indispensable feature allows Mac users to open Office documents created on Windows PCs as easily as if they had created them on their own Apple computers.

Office v. X can also open files created in AppleWorks 6 and the database program FileMaker Pro 5.5, which is important because there remains no Mac version of Microsoft Access.

Until January 18, 2002, any licensed user of an Office 2001 program can upgrade to the full Office v. X program for $149. After that, the full version of Office v. X will retail for $499, with individual components of the suite selling for $399 each. The upgrade from Office 2001 and Office 98 will cost $299, with individual component upgrades going for $149 each.

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