With release near, Microsoft previews Mac Office 2008

A Microsoft exec calls it 'a really big release for us'

Microsoft Office for Mac 2008 doesn't officially ship until the kickoff of the Macworld Conference and Expo on Jan. 15. But Microsoft Corp. has taken the wraps off the latest version of Office, showcasing its new features and capabilities.

"This is a really big release for us," said Geoff Price, product unit manager of Office 2008 for Mac at Microsoft. "We are moving with Apple as it moves forward with its operating system."

Office will be available in three versions: Office 2008 for Mac ($400 retail; $240 for the upgrade), Office 2008 for Mac Home and Student Edition ($150), and Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition ($500; $300 for the upgrade).

When it arrives on U.S. retail shelves later this month (with international sales to follow), Office 2008 will sport a number of new features, not the least of which is the ability to run natively on Intel-based Macintoshes. But from Microsoft's perspective, some of the most important features in the latest version of its massive productivity suite have already been in place for some time.

As is the custom at Microsoft when developing software updates, members of the office team hit the road to talk to customers about what they wanted to see in the next version of Office. One of the things they noticed noticed is that loyal Office users were often unfamiliar with all the features of the product.

"One of the goals for this release was to allow people to rediscover the power of Office," said Han-Yi Shaw, lead program manager for Word, compatibility and user experience at Microsoft. "Sometimes we get requests from power users for features we already have."

To overcome that ignorance, according to Microsoft product unit manger Eric Wilfrid, the company's Mac business unit designed Office 2008 to allow users to create a variety of documents quickly -- regardless of which Office application they're using.

When Office 2008 does arrive, here's what to expect from each of its components.

Word 2008

The latest version of Microsoft's flagship application (and perhaps the most commonly used program on the planet) offers several new features designed to give people access to the different parts of a document. One such feature, called Document Elements, assists users in creating things such as cover pages, tables of contents, headers, footers and bibliographies. Users could create these things in Word before, Shaw said, but the Document Elements tool aims to make that process more evident.

Word also adds a Publishing Layout View, allowing users to create rich documents such as newsletters, flyers and brochures in an interface more akin to a page-layout program than a word processor. Using this view, graphics and photos can be freely placed on a page, and text will automatically wrap around it.

Office 2008 for Mac

Photo courtesy Microsoft Corp.

Publishing Layout View also includes templates and guides -- similar to those in Apple Inc.'s Pages -- to assist users in creating and placing objects.

Word includes other new features, including improved support for formatting bibliographies and citations, OpenType Ligature Support, Notebook Layout View, and a streamlined Mail Merge manager.

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