Microsoft delays Office converters for Mac

Company pushes out by several months tools enabling Mac users to read new Office file formats. Limited Word-only converter is available now.

As it tries to finish the next version of Office for the Mac, Microsoft has delayed efforts to enable current users of the productivity software to work with the new file formats used in the latest Windows version of the desktop software.

Microsoft now says a plug-in that will allow Office 2004 to fully work with the new formats won't be ready until six to eight weeks after the Office 2008 for Mac software suite ships, sometime in the second half of this year. Instead, the company is offering a separate downloadable converter program, starting Tuesday, designed to enable Office for Mac users to convert Word 2007's .docx files to the Rich Text Format, or RTF, which can be read by all Mac OS X versions of Office.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant said it hopes to have similar conversion tools for Excel and PowerPoint by the summer. This is not the first time Microsoft has pushed out its plans for Mac support for the new Office file formats. In December, Microsoft said a conversion tool for the formats, originally expected around the time of the product's January mainstream launch, wouldn't come until March or April.

"We had to make some choices," said Amanda Lefebvre, a marketing manager in Microsoft's Mac business unit. "We are continuing to focus our development on the completion of Office 2008."

On the Windows side of the house, Microsoft has a downloadable converter that enables Office 2003 to seamlessly process documents written in the new formats. As of January, Microsoft had said it planned to have a test version of a similar tool for Mac Office 2004 available this spring. Now, however, it says the full-featured tools will ship shortly after the release of Office 2008, which is designed to natively handle the new file formats.

Lefebvre said that while the Word converter tool being made available for download on Tuesday has some limitations, it also has some benefits, such as an option that lets people convert multiple documents at once.

"Part of our goal is to get something out there up and running," she said. "Word is the most frequently used (Office application)."

Lefebvre said Microsoft's efforts to finish Office 2008 are still on track, though she did not give any details about when or if a public beta version might be available. Microsoft said in March that it had started private testing of the software.

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