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Microsoft preps new Office, IE for Macs

The software giant officially announces support for the upcoming version of the Macintosh operating system, a move that could soothe developers' concerns.

    The big number in Microsoft's vocabulary for the new millenium is the Roman numeral X, as in Mac OS X.

    Today, Microsoft finally officially announced software support for the upcoming version of the Macintosh operating system, called Mac OS X, a move that should help solidify further software development as well as soothe fears customers may have about migrating to the new operating system.

    Microsoft said it is developing a new version of its popular Office suite for release in the second half of 2000, with a Mac OS X native version available at a later date. Also, Internet Explorer Web browser and the Outlook Express email program will be available in native OS X versions, presumably later this year whenever Apple officially makes OS X available. Running software in its native version, without translation, takes more development time but yields better performance and allows for use of additional features not found in programs that haven't been fully updated.

    "We believe in Apple's OS X strategy. We think they are on the right path," said Dick Craddock, manager of Internet products for Microsoft's Macintosh business unit. Apple's OS X is an upcoming operating system based on technology acquired from Next Software that will have more advanced features for better performance than the current version.

    Microsoft's announcement comes some 20 months after Apple first delineated a revised OS strategy, but it is still significant, in that one of the most important Mac software developers feels that Apple has indeed settled on a single strategy.

    Microsoft holds tremendous sway over the Mac software market: Its Office suite is the predominant productivity software in the Mac market. To be sure, many developers have already publicly stated support for OS X, but if there are any developers left who had question about whether or not to develop Mac OS X-based products, this might tilt them in Apple's direction.

    Just how much sway does the company hold? In the finding that Microsoft is a monopoly, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson noted that by threatening to withdraw support for Office in early 1997, Microsoft was able to make Internet Explorer the default browser on Mac systems, instead of Netscape's browser.

    Later in 1997, Microsoft publicly promised to release a version of its Office suite for the Mac in conjunction with the Windows versions for the next five years in a highly publicized move that included an investment from Microsoft.

    In related news, Microsoft also announced that it intends to finally release a new version of its Internet Explorer browser after two notable delays.

    Microsoft said it is developing a number of Mac-specific features, including an auction-watching feature that was first previewed last year. The feature will keep track of auctions, letting users know when they are outbid, when auctions close, and whether users have paid for or received items.

    Among the new features are the ability to customize the interface of the software to match the colors of a customer's iMac and the ability to view multimedia content in the QuickTime format from inside the program instead of launching a separate program for viewing.

    Another Mac-specific feature will increase the size of small fonts that typically are less legible on Macintosh computers.

    Microsoft is promising that IE 5 will be 50 percent faster than the current version of IE 4.5, as well as more reliable than current versions.

    The software is expected to be released in February or March.