Office for Macs to get Exchange update

Microsoft plans to give Macintosh customers access to corporate calendar and contact information stored on servers running the software giant's Exchange software.

4 min read
Microsoft is set to offer this summer a long-awaited upgrade to the Macintosh version of its Office suite.

The update will give Mac customers access to corporate calendar and contact information stored on a server running the software giant's Exchange software.

Mac users have been clamoring for a way to access information from a Microsoft Exchange server under Mac OS X for some time. Office 2001, the Mac OS 9 program, allowed Exchange access, but the feature was not part of the Office v. X for Mac OS X, the version that debuted in November 2001.

Microsoft offered several cumbersome workarounds to allow Mac OS X users to get access to Exchange information. The Redmond, Wash., company also has a Web client of Outlook that can access Exchange information via a Web browser. Microsoft suggested customers might want to remotely access a PC that was running the Windows version of Office to get address book and calendar information from an Exchange server. E-mail from an Exchange server can be downloaded by many mail programs because Exchange supports various e-mail standards.

For more than a year, Microsoft said it was studying the issue of how to add Exchange support--whether to update its Outlook for the Mac program or add Exchange access into Entourage, the e-mail, calendar and contact program that is part of the Mac OS X Office suite.

The software giant eventually concluded that updating Entourage was the most efficient and timely approach, said Jessica Sommer, product manager.

"We couldn't let it wait any longer," she said in an interview, noting that Exchange support was one of the most requested features from Microsoft's Mac customers.

But Mac users still have a bit of a wait on their hands. The update to Entourage, which will be posted as a free download on Microsoft's Mac site, won't be available until sometime this summer, Sommer said.

First and foremost among the new features is the ability to access calendar and address book information; such data can be stored locally on the Mac. Other features include shared calendaring with other Exchange users and the ability to look up names from the directories stored on the Exchange server.

The update won't offer complete parity with the Windows version of Outlook, but Sommer said the company had to weigh what its "customers needs were and get those highest needs out to them."

Next on the agenda for Microsoft's Macintosh unit, Sommer said, is preparing for the impending release of MSN for Mac OS X as well as developing the next version of Office.

Microsoft has not released any details on the next version of Office for the Mac, nor has it said when that version will be available. Typically such releases come out 18 months to 24 months after the last version. Office v. X went on sale in November 2001. Sommer did not provide a date but said there was no reason to think that the next version would deviate from historical norms.

In a statement, Apple praised Microsoft's move to add Exchange support.

"We're very excited that the Microsoft Mac Business Unit will bring Exchange support to Entourage for X, and this is a great example of their continuing commitment to Mac OS X," Ron Okamoto, vice president of worldwide developer relations at Apple, said. "Microsoft has done a great job of listening to Mac customers' needs and then delivering on their most-requested features."

The Microsoft-Apple Computer relationship has been in question of late. A five-year agreement that required Microsoft to develop Office and Internet Explorer for the Mac ended last year. Microsoft reiterated its support for the Mac, saying future software efforts would continue "as long as the business case makes sense."

Since then, Microsoft has introduced a modest update to Office v. X as well as announced plans for the Mac OS X version of MSN. At the same time, executives have complained off and on about the level of sales for the Mac version of Office.

The company also has made some changes in its Mac unit. Former Macintosh Business Unit chief Kevin Browne departed in July for a sabbatical and was subsequently transferred to Microsoft's Xbox unit. In December, Microsoft named Roz Ho as Browne's replacement.

Meanwhile, Apple has released Keynote, a presentation program that could compete with Microsoft's PowerPoint program, as well as a test version of Safari--an Apple-developed Web browser. The company has also launched its "switcher" campaign, which highlights those who have moved from Windows-based PCs to the Mac.

In its recent regulatory filings, Apple noted that it competes with Microsoft in several areas.

"Accordingly, Microsoft's interest in producing application software for the Mac OS following expiration of the agreements may be influenced by Microsoft's perception of its interests as the vendor of the Windows operating system," Apple said in a filing Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. "Discontinuance of Microsoft Office and other Microsoft products for the Macintosh platform would have an adverse effect on the company's net sales and results of operations."