Microsoft starts testing Office 2008 for Mac

The new version, due out later this year, is the first to run natively on Intel-based Macs and also supports new XML-based file formats.

Microsoft has started private testing of the next version of Office for the Macintosh, which is due out in the second half of the year.

Office 2008 for Mac, as the product is known, helps bring the desktop suite back into compatibility with two key technologies. First, the product is the first version of Office that runs natively on both Intel- and Power PC-based Macs. The new software also adds support for the XML file formats that Microsoft added to the Windows version of Office--Office 2007, which hit store shelves in January .

Microsoft did not say how many people are taking part in the private beta or whether it will have a public test version, but a representative said Friday that the company is still on track to have the final product out sometime in the second half of the year .

While the biggest changes in Office 2008 are the compatibility moves, Microsoft has detailed several new features. One is a program called My Day, which gives users quick access to calendar information without requiring them to first go into the Entourage e-mail program.

Also on tap are improved page layout controls in Word and new Excel templates, called ledger sheets, which allow users to handle tasks like producing invoices without having to create or understand the underlying formulas.

Microsoft has taken longer than its normal 18 to 24 months to come out with a new version of Office for the Mac. The current version, Office 2004 for Mac, debuted in April 2004 .

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