Microsoft boosts Office for Mac's business features

Office 2008 for Mac is starting to get business features that had been lacking, such as out-of-office e-mail capabilities.

Microsoft's next release of Office for Mac, due in January, will include business features that PC users have taken for granted for years.

That will include the ability to set up out-of-office messages, according to a preview in Microsoft's Office for Mac team blog.

"With Entourage 2008, you now have the ability to configure your out-of-office settings," said Andy Ruff, program manager for Entourage, the counterpart of Outlook in the Macintosh version of Microsoft Office.

At present, Mac users can only use the out-of-office (OOF) feature by launching a Web browser and using Outlook Web Access. "Then, after every flight, and an in-box full of new messages demanding attention, you must remember to log back into Outlook Web Access and turn the autoreply off," Ruff said. "Personally, I forget to do this a lot, only realizing my OOF message is still on a week later, after a co-worker replies with, 'are you still on vacation?'"

OOF is one of several groupware features that have been missing from Entourage, the only component of Office for the Mac that does not take the name of its Windows sibling. Microsoft is using the 2008 release to bring it more into line, using the Web services interface to Exchange 2007.

When OOF arrives, Mac users will be able to set up specific out-of-office messages and decide who they will be sent to, as well as deciding the start and end of any absence, just as their Windows-based colleagues can.

Other planned improvements include better integration of the Mac version of Microsoft Messenger, according to an earlier blog post by Craig Eisler, general manager of the Macintosh Business Unit.

Eisler will be giving updates, designed to help business users prepare for the new version, every two weeks on the blog, from September 18 until the product is finalized in December. Other improvements will include changes in the Entourage calendar and database, new options for installing Office 2008, new security features and integration with Microsoft SharePoint.

Office 2008 for Mac has been dogged by delays, taking its release date back from late 2007 to January 2008.

Peter Judge of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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