Microsoft has begun shipping a new version of its flagship Office suite that offers powerful new features, support for "bold and classy" 3D graphics effects, a refined user interface, and numerous new personal information management (PIM) enhancements. The catch? It's called Office v. X and it runs only on Mac OS X 10.1 and higher, not Windows.

Office v. X takes advantage of the core Mac OS X technologies to create a poster child, of sorts, for what Apple would like to see from all third party developers. It adopts the Aqua interface look and feel, with blue "gem" widgets, transparency effects, and bright, bold colors. The Quartz graphical engine is used to provide stunning 3D effects, super crisp text, and smooth graphics. New sheets, which attach to specific windows, replace floating modal dialog boxes, making it easier to keep working in other windows and know which window a notification applies to. Most importantly, Office v. X is compatible with previous versions of Office, on both the Mac and Windows.

"We're delighted to bring our award-winning set of productivity tools to Mac OS X," says Kevin Browne, the general manager of the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit (MBU). "Office v. X delivers on the promise of Mac OS X by taking full advantage of the new operating system, and by adding many new and improved features as well. When our customers pick up their copy of Office v. X this week, they will finally be able to work full time in Mac OS X." Apple CEO Steve Jobs agrees. "Microsoft has created the new benchmark Mac OS X application--Office v. X--and Mac users are going to be thrilled with it," says Jobs. "Now users of Mac OS X can seamlessly exchange documents with users running Office on Windows."

Of course, one might question Microsoft's decision to release such a product for Mac OS X only, as even the most positive estimates place the OS X user base at about 300,000 to 700,000 people. However, Apple says that it's in position to transition to a Mac OS X-only product line beginning early next year; currently, the company is offering both OS 9 and OS X on existing Macs, with OS 9 being the default choice. When that happens, the potential number of users for Office v. X will grow dramatically. And of course, both Apple and Microsoft note that many users were waiting on the OS X upgrade until major applications such as Office became available.

I used Office v. X on a 2001 iBook during my COMDEX trip last week and will discuss my findings in a full review that will be published soon in Connected Home Express. But Office v. X does make it much easier to make the transition to OS X, providing for the first time that crucial set of native Office applications. Office v. X includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage, a best of breed PIM application. Current Mac OS Office users can upgrade to the suite for $149 for a limited time; after that the upgrade is $299.