During the Macworld trade show in July, Microsoft officially launched Office 2001 and renamed it by adding ":mac" to the title.
With release of the final, or gold, code, Microsoft is almost certain to ship the product by mid-October, analysts say. Office 2001:mac is the first new Macintosh version of Microsoft's productivity suite since Office 98.
Microsoft would not give an exact shipping date or reveal pricing today. But a source close to the company said Office 2001:mac would cost about the same as Office 98. Currently, the average street price for the Office 98 upgrade is $259, or $359 for the full version.
The new version includes Word for word processing, Excel for creating spreadsheets, the PowerPoint presentation program, and the Entourage personal information and email manager.
Office 2001 differs dramatically from its Windows 2000 cousin, although the two products use common file formats. Microsoft's Mac business unit works independently from the Office for Windows team and has increasingly added more Mac-only features to that version of Office.
"In general, the approach the Microsoft team has taken with Office for the Mac does seem to indicate an enhanced commitment level," Dataquest analyst Chris LeTocq said. "If you look at the messaging, it's designed to say, 'We're committed to the Mac all over.'"
Mac-only features in Mac Office 2001 include Project Gallery, a collection of templates for creating items such as documents, spreadsheets, presentations, contacts and appointments. The feature borrows heavily from all-in-one mini-suites, such as Microsoft Works and AppleWorks.
Another feature lets people convert PowerPoint slide presentations to Apple QuickTime format, allowing Office users to share them across Macintosh and Windows versions. While RealNetworks and Microsoft battle to control the overall streaming-media market, QuickTime is the clear market leader for Macintosh.
Many other features are less obvious, such as a more Mac-like interface, floating formatting palettes aimed at the Mac's large base in the graphic-design and publishing worlds, and abilities for linking files and contact data across applications.
These Mac-only features and changes to Office's interface are significant, LeTocq said. "It certainly sounds like Microsoft believes the Mac marketplace offers them increased (sales) opportunity."
Perhaps the most important addition to Office 2001 is Entourage, which like Outlook 2000 for Windows manages email, contacts, schedules and tasks. But the similarities stop at basic functions. Unlike Outlook 2000, which can run independently or enabled with group functionality when attached to Exchange Server, Entourage is a standalone program.
Although Microsoft offers a Mac version of Outlook that requires Exchange Server, the company found that only about 10 percent of Macintosh owners rely on Exchange. Microsoft also offers Outlook Express 5.02 for sending and managing email, but the program lacks the advanced calendar and contact features of either Outlook or Entourage.
Entourage features include tracking the last 150 messages, spell-checking with the Encarta World English Dictionary, and linking disparate data, such as contacts, email, tasks and documents. The new address book features color-coded categories, access to contacts from any Office application, and the ability to plot contact addresses on maps.
Microsoft has since changed the look of Mactopia to complement the new :mac brand identity, which includes translucent packaging, à la iMac, that can be reused as a CD carrier.
The approach to the branding surprised LeTocq.
"Frankly, I was impressed," he said. "And I don't say that often."