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Microsoft backs the Mac

Macworld Expo Microsoft trumpets its commitment to the Macintosh platform by announcing new software and an entire Mac division.

--Microsoft (MSFT) today trumpeted its commitment to the Macintosh by announcing new versions of its Office and FrontPage software at the Macworld trade show here, along with an entire business unit devoted to building Mac software.

As previously reported by CNET, the new products are welcome news for Mac users and Apple (AAPL), which is trying to position the Mac as an Internet-friendly operating system to rival Microsoft's Windows 95. Although the brunt of Microsoft's Internet development efforts have been focused on Windows 95, the software giant has gradually begun offering Mac versions of its products to correct the perception that it is only concerned with supporting its own operating system.

Microsoft officials now say the Mac is an important platform in its strategic plans. That's why it established the new Macintosh Product Unit, a 100-person strong division devoted to building Mac versions of Office. The unit is headed by Ben Waldman, who previously headed up Microsoft's Office 97 for Windows efforts.

Today at Macworld, Microsoft announced a new edition of Office for the Mac, version 4.2.1. The suite includes Word 6.0.1, Excel 5.0, and PowerPoint 4.0 and sells for $499. In the future, releases of Office and other Microsoft Mac applications could be sped up by the new Mac division, analysts said.

"For consumers, this means application development could be quicker," said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies. "Apple may be much more open about development plans, and not as opposed to giving information on a next-generation product."

Microsoft this week will also announce a new technology called the ActiveX Part Adapter, a manager for Microsoft's Mac products said. The technology will run ActiveX programs through CyberDog, Apple's Internet application suite, and other applications compatible with Apple Computer's OpenDoc component architecture.

The Mac editions of Internet Explorer 3.0 and FrontPage figure prominently in Microsoft's cross-platform efforts.

Today, Microsoft posted a final version of Internet Explorer 3.0 for the Mac on its FTP sites. A formal announcement is expected later today. Introduced in beta form in November, the browser allows users to run ActiveX controls and Java applets, and incorporates user interface improvements already familiar to users of Explorer on Windows 95.

Also today, Microsoft posted a Mac version of FrontPage, the Web page authoring tool Microsoft acquired from Vermeer Technologies in January of 1996. While the Windows 95 version of the authoring tool has gained popularity with developers, Mac users have been left out in the cold.

Meanwhile, other companies such as NetObjects and Adobe Technologies have moved quickly to fill the gap by offering Mac versions of their Web page tools.

FrontPage for the Mac is available on Microsoft's FTP sites. The final version of the software will be priced at $149 and will ship by March, the company said. Office for the Macintosh costs $499 and is now shipping.

Microsoft is also trying to gather momentum for its ActiveX component architecture on the Mac. The company will post its ActiveX Part Adapter on the Internet according to Don Bradford, general manager for Microsoft's Macintosh Internet efforts. Hopes are that users of CyberDog and other OpenDoc-compatible applications or "containers," such as Claris Works, will run ActiveX controls.

The adapter is an effort to extend ActiveX controls, such as a widget that displays 3D images, to browsers other than Explorer. The final version of Explorer 3.0 for Mac will support ActiveX controls natively; the Mac version of Netscape Communications' Navigator already supports ActiveX through a plug-in from Microsoft.

Microsoft will also release this week an ActiveX Control for the Mac, called Text Chat, that allows users to participate in live discussions over the Net, Bradford said.

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Explorer's Java Installer is available at this DOWNLOAD.COM site.