Macworld - Microsoft provided the most extensive look yet into the next version of the Mac version of its popular Office suite on Thursday at Macworld 2010. The new product, Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, will arrive in time for the 2010 holiday season.
Macworld spoke with several representatives of the company's Mac Business Unit, who told us the company is focusing on three things with this new release: better compatibility across platforms, improved collaboration tools, and a more refined user interface. Also, as Microsoft announced last August, the suite will include Outlook for Mac, which replaces Entourage as Office's e-mail client. And, in keeping with Microsoft's 2008 promise, the new version of Office will offer renewed support for Visual Basic, which was dropped in the 2008 version of the productivity suite.
To the Mac Business Unit, compatibility means more than making sure that documents, spreadsheets, and presentations created on one platform open and render correctly on the other. Noting that roughly three quarters of their Mac users use Windows at least occasionally, Microsoft's Mac team says it's also working to make the new Office for the Mac more functionally compatible with the Windows edition.
"Nowadays, compatibility means more than just file formats," Microsoft's Kurt Schmucker told Macworld. "It's also workflow, collaboration, and user interface."
To that end, the new version of Office will incorporate document-collaboration features that take advantage of Microsoft's online storage features. With Office for Mac 2011, Mac users will be able to share files and collaborate on documents with other Mac and Windows users via Microsoft's SharePoint, SkyDrive, and Office Web Apps.
Those online tools will allow users to collaborate on documents with other Windows and Mac Office users in real time, much as you can in Google Docs now. You could, for example, create a document in Word on your laptop, save it to SkyDrive, then share it with others. A pop-up in Word will show you who's working on the document; click on that list, and you'll be able to send them a message (as long as everyone is using Outlook or Microsoft's Messenger IM application). The paragraphs your collaborators are working on will be locked out until they're done. You'll also be able to edit those same documents from any computer, using Office's Web apps. Mac users will have the same experience in the their versions of Safari and Firefox as Windows users get with their browsers, Schmucker said.
Microsoft also says it's learned from user feedback about Office 2008 and has tweaked the user interface accordingly in Office 2011.
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