Microsoft on Thursday said that next week it will begin offering a word-processing and e-mail bundle for Mac users.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company previewed the package, Word + Entourage 2001 Special Edition, last month but kept back a few product details. While Microsoft is offering some good news for SE buyers--a $149 upgrade price to the forthcoming Macintosh Office for Mac OS X--the lack of certain features, such as synchronization with Palm systems, could irk some customers.
Microsoft also faces increasing criticism from Mac users frustrated at its delay in delivering the Mac OS X version of its productivity suite. At the Macworld Conference Expo in about two weeks, Microsoft is expected to reveal the name of the new Mac Office, code-named Office 10, and to firm up a delivery date for sometime in the fall.
For now, Microsoft is trudging along with software versions for Apple's older Mac OS 8.x and 9.1 operating systems, even though Apple released OS X in March and started shipping it on all new computers in May.
"I think (Office 2001) should have been timed for a concurrent release (with OS X)," said Mac user Mike Miller. Anything less, he said, "shines the spotlight on Microsoft's second-rate treatment of the Mac market space."
"Microsoft is doing a bit of a disservice to the Mac community by offering (Office for Mac OS X) in the fall," said Lucas Rockwell, a Mac user working in Berkeley, Calif. "This allows other heavyweights, like Adobe and Macromedia, to drag their feet as well. It could be their undoing as far as Office is concerned."
Although some Mac owners have faulted Microsoft's delivery schedule, Microsoft defends its timeline.
"We're not late by any means," said Erick Ryan, product manager for Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit. "We've said autumn 2001 would be the timeframe for which we would deliver Office 10 for Mac OS X to Mac customers." He promised the program "would be worth the wait."
Recognizing the sometimes contentious relationship between Microsoft and the Mac community, Ryan also responded to the accusation of second-class treatment. "We really make a concerted effort to treat all of our Mac customers, everybody in the Mac community, as first-class citizens," he said.
Both Word + Entourage SE and Office 2001 will work in Mac OS X's "classic" mode, Apple's compatibility environment running version 9.1.
For Marc Blaydoe, a 14-year Mac user from Waldorf, Md., that's good enough for now. "Having a version of MS Office for OS X is important to the platform," he said. On the other hand, "I actually am quite pleased overall with the Macintosh-software division of Microsoft. They seem to be doing a very good job and are genuinely enthusiastic about the platform."
At $149, Word + Entourage SE costs substantially less than the full Office 2001 suite, which sells for an average $425 for the full version and $258 as an upgrade. Microsoft's target customer is someone who needs word processing and e-mail, but not necessarily the full-blown suite, Kevin Browne, general manager of the Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft, said in a statement.
Office 2001 also includes the Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentation program.
Suited for the home market
The new package is "probably best suited for the home market," Miller said. "Any business type of usage would need Excel also."
Word + Entourage SE has features including clip art galleries, address and calendar, along with the normal features found in the word processor and spreadsheet.
"Combine that with the fact that Word + Entourage SE users will also qualify for the special upgrade price to Office 10 for Mac," Browne said in a statement. Those buying the package would pay only $149 for the Office 10 for Mac OS X upgrade.
But Microsoft also removed some features for the lower-priced product. Gone are business templates, Visual Basic for applications and synchronization with Palm handhelds.
Because Palm OS-based handhelds, such as the Palm 505 or Handspring's Visor Edge, work with both Windows and Apple computers, they are fairly popular with Mac users. "I've been using the Palm Desktop on Mac OS 9--and before that, on Mac OS 8.x--for quite some time," said Brendan Lane Larson, a longtime Mac user from Danville, Calif. But he also noted that he "was never able to get Palm sync--even in Outlook Express--to work smoothly and seamlessly."
Larson is more likely to wait for a version of the Palm Desktop to come out for Mac OS X. He also is "highly considering" a switch to Apple's Mail application included in OS X.
Former Mac user Marshall Janzen thinks "the Word/Entourage combo makes sense." But he also wondered whether the bundle, which Microsoft will offer for a limited time, shows the competitive differences Microsoft faces on Windows PCs vs. Macs. "Probably the reason Word/Outlook hasn't been released on the Windows side is that Microsoft has the Windows market pretty well tied up and would prefer that people choose the more expensive Office bundles," he said.
But some Mac users plan to skip the bundle and even Microsoft's more full-featured Office suite.
"I would not buy the Word/Entourage combo, and I will discourage the 80-plus clients that I support from buying it as well," Rockwell said. "I would actually like to migrate everyone over to AppleWorks. Word in general has far too many features for most of my clients' needs. And looking at my support logs, I would have to say that, by far, most of my time is spent troubleshooting MS Word problems."