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MS readies Office 98 for Macs

As Microsoft prepares to ship its Macintosh edition of Office 98 in January, the company posts tools to help the migration process for users of older applications.

As Microsoft (MSFT) prepares to ship its Office 98 Macintosh Edition software suite in January, the company has posted a few tools to help the migration process for users of older applications.

The company said the final version of the Word 97-98 Import Converter has been posted to the company's Web site. The converter will allow users of Word 5.1 or 6.x for the Mac to open Word 97 for Windows and Word 98 for Mac files. Once the converter is installed, Mac users will be able to open Word 97-98 files directly, allowing them to share files during the migration process, the company said.

Office 98 Mac Edition and Office 97 for Windows (which was not released for the Mac) share the same file formats, said a company spokesperson.

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

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 have an option that combines the new menu command structure with the familiar Word 5.1 menus. By Microsoft's estimate, 8 million people are using its Mac Office software; approximately 30 percent are still using Word 5.1, said the company.

In addition, Microsoft has recently posted a PowerPoint 97-98 Import Converter for PowerPoint 4.0 for Mac users on the same Web site. After installing this converter on their desktops, users will be able to open PowerPoint 97 for Windows and soon PowerPoint for Mac files directly, the company said.

The Office 98 Macintosh Edition rolls out on January 6 at the MacWorld Expo. It will be the first concrete example of Microsoft's renewed commitment to the Macintosh platform, according to industry observers.

The rollout is part of the establishment of a Mac-only business division of over 100 people, which Microsoft representatives touted as a commitment to greater focus on the needs of Mac users. In August, the Redmond, Washington-based software giant invested $150 million to shore up the financially troubled Apple Computer.