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New Office for Mac still coming this year

Microsoft says Office for Mac 2011 will include a ribbon user interface as well as support for the browser-based Office Web Apps. Also, Outlook returns to the Mac.

Microsoft is tying a ribbon around the next version of Office for Mac.

Due out later this year, Office for Mac 2011 will sport a version of the "ribbon" user interface that has adorned the PC version since Office 2007, Microsoft said Thursday. The new Office will also add support for Microsoft's new browser-based Office Web Apps as well as the first Mac OS X version of Outlook.

Microsoft had said last year that it was working on a new Mac version that would bring Outlook back to the Mac. The company says that version should indeed arrive by this year's holiday shopping season and added that Office for Mac 2011 will allow for importing of .PST files from the Windows version of Office.

"You've told us that working together across platforms is a priority to you and that's why we are making Office for Mac 2011 the best, most compatible productivity suite on the Mac," Microsoft Mac Business Unit general manager Eric Wilfrid said in a statement.

Prior to Mac OS X, the Office for Mac product had included an Exchange-compatible Outlook program for e-mail and calendar. With Mac OS X, though, Microsoft switched to a Mac-only program called Entourage that initially offered almost no connection to Outlook or Exchange. Over time, Entourage gained a fair bit of Exchange connectivity, but still lacked full compatibility.

In addition to Outlook, Office for Mac 2011 will add a ribbon user interface as well as support for co-authoring and other features that have been making their way into the PC version of Office. A new Windows version of Office--Office 2010--has reached the near-final "release candidate" stage and is due out in June.

Microsoft workers said they were not worried that the addition of the browser-based Office Web Apps would hurt sales of the Mac version of Office.

"It still does not provide you that offline capability, that's one of the big key things," said Mike Tedesco, a senior product manager in the MacBU. Colleague Amanda Lefebvre noted that some Mac users might only use the Web apps, but added that "they probably never would have bought Office."

Lefebvre remained circumspect as to whether Microsoft has any plans to bring Office to Apple's other platform--the iPhone OS.

"Obviously it's a platform that's popular and we have to be considering it," she said.

As for Office for Mac, Lefebvre said the company is currently testing Office for Mac 2011 inside its walls, with plans to start a limited closed beta soon.