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Software for the Mac is plentiful again

Now that Mac hardware is back, it looks like the software is too, with announcements of new products from IBM and Microsoft indicating that development is picking up steam.

NEW YORK--The Mac is back, and now it looks like the software is too, with announcements of new products from IBM and Microsoft indicating that software development is picking up steam.

In the past, the Macintosh market was characterized by a lack of new, advanced software titles. In particular, the problem often manifested itself as a long lag time between the development of Microsoft software for the Windows operating system and the development of equally capable programs for the Macintosh.

But significant support for Apple Computer's Macintosh has been forthcoming at the Macworld trade show here today, providing more proof that the incredible success of the iMac is drawing cutting-edge software.

At his opening keynote today, Apple interim chief executive Steve Jobs announced that IBM would be creating a version of its ViaVoice speech-recognition software for the Macintosh. Earlier this year, Dragon Systems announced it was bringing its speech-recognition software to the Mac as well. While all Apple computers have rudimentary versions of this software, these two top speech-recognition developers have promised to offer advanced features, including letting a user dictate without having to pause between words.

Also, Lotus Development, an IBM subsidiary, said it would make available a version of its Lotus Notes R5 for the Macintosh later this summer. Lotus Notes is a widely used program for messaging and collaborating on group projects. The company expects that pricing will be between $55 and $69.

"Lotus's support underscores...the thriving business opportunity [the Macintosh platform] provides," said Clent Richardson, Apple's vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations in a statement.

The introduction of new Quicken personal finance software from Intuit also highlights the state of the Macintosh.

Just a year ago, broad-based enthusiasm and support were in doubt because of sliding sales for Macintosh computers. This is a bad sign for any company, as software developers flee in pursuit of higher volume, higher profit computers--namely, PCs based on the Windows-Intel standard. Intuit's chief executive Bill Campbell, who is on Apple's board, at one point said some of his company's titles wouldn't be updated for the Mac. He later changed his position after Jobs briefed him on the plans for the iMac.

At Macworld, the industry trade show devoted to the company he cofounded, Jobs demonstrated that the Mac business is a viable one for software developers by touting the number of new or updated software applications available for the Macintosh since the introduction of the iMac. That number now stands at 3,935, according to Apple.

But these numbers are somewhat problematic. Apple has never said what percentage of that number represents new versions of a program or just a fix for glitches. That's why the introduction of new editions of software such as Quicken and software not previously available, such as speech recognition, are an important indicator of developer interest in Apple.

Microsoft updates Outlook
Almost two years after Microsoft took the controversial step of investing in Apple, the company continues to offer new programs for the Mac platform, although some will arrive later than hoped for.

Microsoft is introducing a new version of the Outlook Express organizer and email program. Outlook Express has not yet gained widespread acceptance in the Mac market, despite the fact that the software has always been given away.

One new feature is the ability to track all threads of a particular message by viewing information in a "preview pane." Users can pull up messages by clicking on a link in the pane instead of having to rummage through various mailboxes to find a related message.

Another feature is a special set of junk mail filters, allowing the screening of suspect email. The filters collect messages that appear to be spam, displays them in a window, and lets the user decide what to throw away. One mouse click and all of the messages go into the trash can.

For Mac users that have a Palm Computing handheld, Microsoft added the ability to automatically synchronize data with Outlook Express's built-in contact manager. Previously, the only program designed for this was the email and contact program included with the Palm devices. Also, Microsoft has integrated its free Hotmail service into Express, allowing users to view email in their Hotmail accounts alongside other email from other accounts.

On a less positive note, the Internet Explorer 5.0 Web browser for the Mac has slipped from a summer to a fall release. Microsoft did say it would demonstrate a few features of the software, including one for keeping track of auctions that a user is participating in.

Microsoft also announced that it will be offering a full version of the widely used Microsoft Word for Mac priced at $99 for iMac customers after a $30 mail-in rebate. The software is regularly priced at $249. The package also comes with extra features such as clip art that is targeted at a consumer audience.

So far, Microsoft has not yet struck a deal to include the word processing software bundled with Apple's consumer offerings.

It isn't all business for the Mac, either, given that a large portion of users have their iMacs at home. Today, a game developer called Bungie Software offered Mac users the first public preview of a new action-adventure game called "Halo." The game, which uses advanced graphics acceleration technology based on SGI software, will be available in the first half of 2000 for both Mac and Windows-based computers.