April 5, 2004 9:00 PM PDT

Microsoft readies Mac Office update

Microsoft said Monday that it has wrapped up development work on Office 2004--the latest Macintosh version of Office--with the software slated to hit stores next month.

The company said it will start mass-producing copies of the software next week, intending to have it on retail store shelves by the third week of May. As previously reported, Office 2004 adds a number of new features, including a new note-taking mode within Word and a project center for improved collaboration.

Microsoft had promised that the software would debut in the first half of this year.

"Things have gone really well," said Jessica Sommer, a project manager in Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit. "The bug counts have been very low."

Microsoft is not making any pricing changes with Office 2004. Last year, the company cut the price of Mac Office by $100, to $399, for the standard version. The company also has a $149 student and teacher version and a $499 "professional" version that includes Virtual PC for the Mac.

As part of a "technology guarantee" program it announced at the beginning of the year, those who purchased the software since January will get a free upgrade. For others, the upgrade to the standard edition will cost $239--$329 for professional. The student and teacher version is not upgradeable.

Although Microsoft was initially disappointed with sales of the Mac OS X version of Office, Sommer said sales have improved, as more Mac users have switched to new versions of the Mac OS.

"We've seen stronger sales in the past year than in the first year," Sommer said. "That's pretty obviously due to OS X adoption."

Microsoft released a Mac OS X-only version of Office--Office X--in November 2001, just months after Apple released OS X itself. Microsoft was critical of Apple's initial efforts to promote OS X but for months has sounded a happier note, saying it is pleased with its relationship with Apple.

The company has pledged its commitment to the Mac market but said it will decide on new versions of software one upgrade at a time. Last June, for example, the company said it would stop developing new Mac versions of its Internet Explorer browser, following Apple's release of Safari.

Work on the next version of Office is already under way, marketing director Tim McDonough said in a January interview.

Office 2004 is not a radical departure from its predecessor but adds some unique features. A chart created within Excel can now be saved as a separate graphic. The company also updated its PowerPoint templates and added new transitions that are designed to give Office-created presentations a less dated feel, Sommer said.

 

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