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Microsoft opens Exchange to Apple users

A new upgrade allows users of Office for the Mac to access e-mail, calendar entries and addresses stored on a corporate Exchange server.

Microsoft has fulfilled a long-held request of Mac OS X users by allowing them to access corporate e-mail and calendar information stored on a Microsoft Exchange server.

The new feature was made available Monday as part of a free upgrade to the Entourage e-mail, calendar and address book program that is part of the Mac version of Microsoft Office.

Microsoft had promised in February that such an upgrade would arrive sometime this summer. Mac OS X users have been asking for Exchange support since Mac OS X debuted more than two years ago.

The long-awaited upgrade arrives just as Apple is said to be adding Exchange support to Panther, the next version of Mac OS X. According to Mac enthusiast site Think Secret, some features in the latest test version of Panther allow Apple's built-in address book program to access information stored on an Exchange server. The Web site also said Panther offers increased support for Exchange e-mail from within Apple's own e-mail program, dubbed Mail.

Apple representatives declined to comment on any Exchange functions that might be built into Panther, although the company has talked about improved Windows compatibility as a key goal for Panther.

Since the arrival of Mac OS X, Apple has been adding features to make its machines fit in well on a Windows network, but the lack of Exchange access has been seen as a critical shortcoming for many corporate Mac users.

"Exchange support is something customers have been wanting ever since I can remember," said Ron Okamoto, vice president of developer relations. "I know this is something that is going to help our customers out. It's important for business. It's important for education."

Meanwhile, a small start-up called Snerdware last week released a free program designed to give Mac users access to an Exchange server's corporate directory while using Apple's address book program.

"Many people use these corporate directories," said Snerdware CEO Jacob Swed, a former Microsoft employee who once worked on its Windows team. "People with Macs didn't have a good way to access them."

Snerdware's AddressX offers the ability to get at the corporate contact list--known as the Global Address List--but not personal contacts. Swed, who described Snerdware is essentially a one-man shop, said he is also testing a program called Groupcal that would allow access to calendar information stored on an Exchange server from within Apple's iCal program.

Swed said Microsoft's move will undoubtedly be welcomed by Mac owners, but he added that he is convinced there is a market for offering Exchange access from within Apple's built-in programs. He noted that more than 2,000 people have already registered to download AddressX.

"A lot of people embrace using Apple's native applications and not having to use Entourage," he said.