Microsoft Dishes On Future of Office for Mac

Office_2010

So far we’ve had to sit back and watch while Office 2010 news for PC users rolled in, but the MacBU over at Microsoft has finally come through with details of when and what Mac users can expect regarding the industry-dominating productivity suite, announced at a press conference this morning. They also detailed some changes to the existing Office 2008, or at least to the way it’s sold, to tide us over.

First, the changes to 2008 will include a reduction in retail SKUs from three to two, a Home/Student Edition and a Business Edition. The new Business Edition will include Entourage Web Services Edition, MS Document Connection, additional templates and clip art, and some Lynda.com training sessions. This new pack will cost $399 and be available September 15, while the Home/Student Edition will continue to retail for $149.

Not much was revealed about the next version of Office, which has a target launch date of 2010’s holiday season, but the MacBU did drop one major bomb on Apple users. Entourage, the email application currently bundled with Mac Office, will be replaced by Outlook, a move which probably has IT departments everywhere who support a Mac/PC hybrid work environment jumping for joy. It still wont’ be exactly the same as Outlook for the PC, but it will support a greater range of Exchange features, including public calendars.

The new Outlook will also be a native Cocoa application, which should bode well for Mac integration, and sport a brand new database that includes support for Spotlight indexing and Time Machine backup. Outlook for Mac will also sport Information Rights Management, which should make sure that only recipients who have permission to access rights-managed content actually get to see or use it. Finally, it’ll also be able to sync tasks and notes.

Developers and advanced Office users will also be pleased to learn that Visual Basic for Applications, which wasn’t included in Office 2008. Microsoft received harsh criticism for the omission of VBA, which makes it relatively easy to add customization options such as menus and dialogs, and create macros to simplify tasks. MacBU group product manager Kurt Schmucker explained that user response factored heavily in their decision to re-introduce VBA support, saying “we know [VBA] is important to a section of our user base who needs cross platform compatibility, and we’re bringing that back.” VBA was left out of Office 2008 because of the difficulty in upgrading the software for Intel-based machines.

No word yet on any prospective pricing, naming or specific release dates for the next version of Office for Mac. I imagine some kind of upgrade pricing will be available, and it’s probably safe to assume that the pricing structure will closely resemble that of the 2008 suites. That is, if they’re allowed to sell it at all.

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