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Apple offers peek at next Office from Microsoft

Master showman Steve Jobs may be wooing the Mac faithful at the Macworld Expo trade show, but not all the goodies in the Apple CEO's bag of tricks are Apple's.

Master showman Steve Jobs may have wooed the Mac faithful today at the Macworld Expo trade show, but not all the goodies in his bag of tricks were Apple's.

The Apple Computer chief executive also had a few surprises from Microsoft, including Macintosh Office 2001, which he said would ship in October. The unveiling included Microsoft's new ":mac" brand identity, Office packaging that people can reuse to hold CDs, and an ad campaign boasting Mac Office's new look and features.

Office 2001, the successor to Mac Office 98, goes into a third beta test this week, potentially the last before Microsoft releases the final code as early as next month. Microsoft has added Entourage, a combination contact, time and email manager, to Office, in addition to the existing Word word-processing software, Excel spreadsheet software and PowerPoint presentation program.

Entourage offers some of the features of its Windows counterpart, Outlook 2000, without the need to connect to Microsoft Exchange Server. Through surveys, Microsoft found that only about 10 percent of Mac users connect to Exchange.

News about Office 2001--or Office:mac under the new branding--first leaked out in April, when Microsoft posted on its Mactopia Web site a full marketing presentation rather than the intended teaser.

In conjunction with today's Office 2001 announcement, Microsoft refreshed the look of Mactopia to match the :mac brand identity, which the Redmond, Wash.-based software company is positioning as a shorter and friendlier way to promote its products to Apple enthusiasts.

Through new translucent software packaging that can be reused to hold CDs, Microsoft hopes to show that Office:mac is as cool as the trendy iMac or iBook.

"We've built this to reaffirm to our customers that we're developing on that platform, and we're also trying to take all the aspects of the product--around simplicity, innovation, creativity--and build that into the identity too," said Mary Rose Becker, Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) group product manager.

Gartner analyst Chris Le Tocq likes the change.

"The commitment from the Mac team at Microsoft actually has been pretty good," Le Tocq said. "The new logo and packaging looks really good. The team there is saying that the Mac customer is their focus, and this is not Office for Windows redone for the Mac."

Microsoft's Mac repositioning is also important for Apple because Office:mac is essentially the only game in town. Nisus Writer from Nisus Software is the only remaining competitor to Word since beleaguered Corel pulled the plug on the Mac version of WordPerfect earlier this year. But in terms of an overall productivity suite, Office:mac is alone, save for AppleWorks 6, a mini-suite geared more for consumers.

With so many Mac users also working with PCs--56 percent, according to Microsoft--the new version of Office seeks to be more Mac-like while at the same time being better suited to sharing files with or connecting to PCs.

This is essential if Apple is to move more into the corporate market, Technology Business Research analyst Lindy Lesperance said.

"Particularly in the business market, there has to be a high level of interoperability across multiple factors outside of what office suite you are using," she explained. "Small businesses cannot afford to be islands of information."

Microsoft also hopes to boost its image among Mac users with new Office 2001 features not found in its Windows counterpart, highlighted in the new branding and an ad campaign.

"If you look at the ads they have coming, don't they look similar to Apple-type ads? And that's an endorsement as well," Le Tocq said. "Overall, I'd say these guys appear to be pretty chummy."