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Microsoft debuts Office 98 for Mac

At Macworld Expo, Microsoft introduces Office 98 for the Mac.

SAN FRANCISCO--At Macworld Expo, Apple Computer (AAPL) showed off the first results of its invigorated relationship with Microsoft via the official unveiling of Office 98 for the Mac.

The Microsoft Office 98 upgrade comprises a refresh of the full suite of Microsoft business applications: Word, a word processing program; Excel, a spreadsheet application; Outlook Express, an email and Special coverage: All the Mac's a stage newgroup reader; and the PowerPoint slide presentation program.

The software will be available in retail stores by March, but Microsoft will for the first time will allow online resellers to take orders starting today. Customers will be referred to qualifying resellers via a special Web site.

Microsoft has shown the product publicly before, but today announced new features designed to aid workers who share and coedit documents.

In Excel, for instance, additions and deletions to the spreadsheet can be tracked according to who made the changes and what time the changes were made. Spreadsheets can even be edited by simultaneous users on either Mac or Windows machines, since both versions of the program use the same file format, according to Matthew Price, a product manager with Microsoft. To aid tracking, changes are color-coded according to user name, and when a cursor is moved over data in the spreadsheet, comments about the changes automatically appear.

Similar features for collaboration have been built into other Office 98 components, such as Word. Changes to a document are added incrementally to the original file, so users can open up any version of the document at any time; users can keep track of different version according to the time changes were made.

One of the additions to Office 98 for the Mac that hasn't yet appeared in the Windows-based version is the "self-repairing application" technology. With this feature, Office 98 software will find and restore deleted files, sometimes called "shared library" files, which are critical to the implementation of a program. "Library" files are reusable pieces of program code used to share functions or resources among programs. Previously, Office software had problems starting--and in some cases wouldn't run--if these files were missing.

Other new features include a drag-and-drop installation method (in which users load a CD, drag the Office folder onto the hard drive icon, and the program installs itself), a faster thesaurus feature, and a technology called Office Assistant that provides interactive assistance as a user works in an application. Excel 98 will allow users to create formulas more intuitively. The new version of the popular suite will increase automation of routine tasks, such as checking for and correcting spelling errors, according to Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has sought to emulate the look and feel of Macintosh, for example matching the gray color of Office 98 tables to that of the Mac color scheme. The previous version of Office for the Mac, ported from Windows, was not "Mac-centric" enough, Microsoft has admitted.

However, Microsoft has not yet committed to building Office--or anything, for that matter--for the upcoming Rhapsody operating system. Still, the software has been much anticipated by Mac users and is the first concrete example of the software giant's renewed commitment to the Macintosh platform following last August's spectacular $150 million investment in Apple Computer.

Office 98 for the Mac with new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as the Outlook Express email client and the Internet Explorer Web browser, will cost $299 for previous Office application users, while a new license is $499. The Office 98 Mac Edition Gold upgrade is $399 and adds the Encarta 98 multimedia encyclopedia, Bookshelf 98 CD-ROM reference library, and the FrontPage 1.0 Web site creation tool. A new version of the "Gold" edition will be priced at $599.

Microsoft says minimum system requirements include any PowerPC-based system with at least a 120-MHz processor, at least 16MB of memory (32MB of memory recommended), between 49MB and 120MB of free disk space, a CD-ROM drive, and Mac OS 7.5 or later.