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Microsoft squashes bugs in Mac Office

The company issues the first service release--or collection of bug fixes--for Mac Office 2001 and gives an update on Office for Mac OS X.

Microsoft on Monday called on the exterminators to stomp out Macintosh Office bugs.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company issued the first service release--or collection of bug fixes--for Mac Office 2001. The company had already issued two similar service updates for the Windows counterpart, Office 2000.

Microsoft also gave an update on its forthcoming Mac OS X version of Office, which is slated for release later this year. Late last month, Apple Computer released Mac OS X, the first complete overhaul of the Mac operating system in 17 years. But so far, only a few major programs have been rewritten to take advantage of its new features. Mac Office is considered one of the most important programs for Apple, making a Mac OS X version an essential upgrade, say analysts.

Eric Ryan, product manager for Microsoft's Mac Business Unit, described the Office 2001 service release as "minor product updates across all the major applications," adding that "minor glitches have now been addressed."

The service release addresses problems in all four of the programs in Office 2001: the Word word-processing program, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentation program and Entourage e-mail client.

The bug fixes, however, are insignificant compared with Microsoft's plans to release a Mac OS X version of Office. Although Office 2001 runs in Classic mode--Apple's Mac OS 9.1 compatibility environment for older programs--in OS 10, it does not take advantage of the newer operating system's advanced features.

"I don't want to overstate the obvious about the importance of a productivity suite like Office for OS X," Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal said. "Any operating system is only going to be as effective as the applications that run on top of it."

Mac Office 2002 or XP?
Microsoft's working title for the next version is "Office 10 for Mac OS X." Ryan would not nail down an exact release date "because it's just too early in the development process." But when pressed, he said "late fall" would be a fair estimate.

Microsoft would not reveal pricing or the final name of Office 10 for Mac OS X. But current Office 2001 users will be able to upgrade for 50 percent off the stated price.

Given Microsoft's track record on naming, Deal said, Office 2002 for the Mac is a safe bet for the new version.

"But...will they call it Mac Office 2002 or XP?" said Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq. "One of the things Microsoft is doing is removing the year notation because of its .Net strategy. Microsoft wants to prepare people for subscriptions."

The larger question may be how much Office 10 for Mac OS X will support Microsoft's HailStorm .Net software-subscription strategy or its Passport authentication scheme.

"It will be interesting to see if those services will be provided by Microsoft or by Apple as part of the operating system," LeTocq said.

Ryan also gave updates for other Mac OS X products coming from Microsoft's Macintosh business unit. The company shipped a preview version of Internet Explorer 5.1 on the Mac OS X CD. A final version is expected by summer, he said.

MSN Instant Messenger 2.0 for Mac OS X will come in "the next couple of months," Ryan said.

But Microsoft is not working on or planning a Mac OS X version of Outlook Express. "Right now we're focusing on IE and we're focusing on Office 10," Ryan said.

Microsoft last week released version 7 of its Windows Media Player for the Mac, but could give no timeline for delivering a Mac OS X version.

Other OS X software
New versions of software for Mac OS X continue to trickle out, with Macromedia jumping on board Monday. Macromedia's FreeHand 10, due out next month, will be available for the new Mac operating system.

AOL Time Warner has released a test Mac OS X version of AOL Instant Messenger and is signing up testers for a Mac OS X version of its online service software. Eudora also is testing version 5.1 of its popular e-mail program for Mac OS X. Netopia later this month plans to roll out a Mac OS X version of its Timbuktu remote-access program.

But not all finished programs are ready for prime time. "We've 'carbonized' Toast as much as we can," said Victor Nemechek, product manager for Toast, the popular CD burning software from Roxio. "You can get your CDs all ready to burn, but the final step--you can't do that." Carbonizing refers to taking existing code and moving it over to Mac OS X.

Apple shipped Mac OS X without full support for CD-rewritable, DVD and DVD-recordable drives. Besides its own troubles, developers say, Apple also failed to deliver adequate tools for third-party software programs.

"The I/O kit that Apple shipped in the release version of OS X is not quite complete," Nemechek said, referring to a computer's input/output system. This means companies developing software for CD-RW, DVD and tape drives are at a standstill in their development efforts, he added.

Apple is expected to add CD-RW functionality to Mac OS X later this month, but Nemechek said that would likely not immediately solve the problem for Roxio or other developers working with I/O-dependent hardware.

"There are some exciting things about OS X, but problems like this just validate my belief that there is no compelling reason for most people to go out and get OS X right now," Deal said.

Apple declined to comment on the I/O kit.