On Wednesday, Microsoft released the next version of Office for the Macintosh, which is being marketed as the less-wordy and friendlier Office:Mac 2001 for marketing purposes. Office 2001 for the Macintosh emulates the consumer bent of Apple's iMac and iBook offerings, because these products now represent most Macintosh sales. As such, this latest version of Office focuses heavily on new features for home users rather than businesses, while providing a number of interesting Mac-specific improvements. But many of these changes will also show up in the next version of Office for Windows, currently dubbed Office 10, which will ship in late spring 2001. Office 2001--which includes updated versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as a new Outlook-like application called Entourage--was launched at a CompUSA location in the San Francisco bay area.

"Office 2001 for Mac was developed to help people communicate and have access to everything the Internet offers," says Kevin Browne, who heads Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (MBU). "Office 2001 for Mac includes the standard applications ... and we’ve added a fourth, Entourage. Entourage combines powerful yet simple email with all the personal information management tools you need--a calendar, an address book, task lists, notes. It ties these modules together very tightly, and also ties in with all the other applications in the suite. With Entourage, you can flag any item you create -- Word files, a list in Excel -- for follow-up. You can send yourself reminders for phone calls, flag email messages, and leave reminders for yourself in Word documents."

Like many other Microsoft products of late, Office 2001 is designed for simplicity: The interface is streamlined and more Mac-like, while the most commonly used options are easy to find and access. Microsoft says that Internet and digital media integration are key areas on which Office 2001 focuses. For compatibility, Office 2001 offers all of the features of Office 2000 for Windows while maintaining the ability to work with older Office file formats on both Windows and the Mac. "Office 2001 for Mac uses the same file format as Office 98 for Mac, so it’s completely compatible," Browne says. "It’s also completely compatible with Office 97 and Office 2000 for Windows. Compatibility, in fact, is our number one priority. Half the hours spent developing Office 2001 for Mac were spent on compatibility: that’s how important it is."

For the future, Browne says that Microsoft is committed to the Macintosh's 10 million customers and Mac OS X, Apple's upcoming UNIX-based operating system. So Microsoft is developing its next version of Office specifically for Mac OS X, along with its other Mac products, such as Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Windows Media Player for the Macintosh.

Office 2001 for the Macintosh is an important product for a number of reasons, and I'll be reviewing it on the SuperSite for Windows sometime soon. Stay tuned