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Office 98 for the Mac

Expected by year's end, the business productivity suite will feature improved and more "Mac-like" versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

In the first concrete example of its renewed commitment to the Macintosh platform, Microsoft (MSFT) yesterday demonstrated Office 98 for Macintosh.

The business productivity suite is due by the end of 1997 and will consist of new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as the Outlook Express email client and the Internet Explorer browser. It will not include the Access database.

The rollout is part of the establishment of a Mac-only business division of over 100 people, which Microsoft representatives touted yesterday as a commitment to greater focus on the needs of Mac users.

The previous version of Office for Macintosh was highly criticized for not being Mac-centric enough, Office product manager Matthew Price admitted. "We carried some of the interface too far in order to be consistent with [the Windows version]," Price said.

The number-one developer of Macintosh software, Microsoft has not yet committed to building Office--or anything, for that matter--for the upcoming Rhapsody operating system, which will be commercially available by next summer, according to Apple's timetable.

"We're still in the discussion stage with Apple," said Price.

Many Mac users are still using Office 4.2 and the highly regarded Word 5.1, and to convince them to upgrade to Office 98, Microsoft is promising a more Mac-like interface. Word 98 will even have an option that combines the new menu command structure with the familiar Word 5.1 menus. By Microsoft's estimates, 8 million people are using its Mac Office software; approximately 30 percent are still using Word 5.1, said Price.

The Office 98 file formats will be the same as those for Office 97 for Windows, but Microsoft promises to fix the file conversion problems that plagued the release of Office 97 earlier this year. Office 98 will also read Mac Word 5.1 and 6.0 files.

The program will also take advantage of the Mac drag-and-drop interface for easy installation from CD-ROM. All users have to do is load the CD, drag the Office folder onto the hard drive icon, and the program will launch itself.

The new Office suite will also feature "self-repairing" files. If a user accidentally deletes system files, the Office applications will automatically re-install them upon launch from a hidden backup file. File structure has changed as well, as Office 98 will install only six components in the Extensions folder, as opposed to the approximately two dozen files that Office 4.2 added.

Unlike Office 97 for Windows, the upcoming Mac version will not feature the full-fledged Outlook client. An Outlook for Mac client will be available with the next version of Exchange, Microsoft's back-end messaging server.

Office 98 for Macintosh will require System 7.5 or higher. Pricing and other system requirements have not been determined, although memory and hard-disk footprint are expected to be equal to or less than the Office 97 for Windows product, said Kevin Browne, product planning lead for the Macintosh business unit.

The standard Office 97 edition with a similar feature set requires at least 8 MB of memory to run applications individually, more to run them simultaneously. It also requires an average of 102MB of hard-drive space.