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Office 2011 to focus on Windows compatibility; Outlook Mac gets .PST

Monday, February 15, 2010

Compatibly with Windows is the major focus of the next version of Office for Mac, a Microsoft spokesperson told MacWindows. At Macworld Expo last week, Microsoft also announced the name, ship date, and some of the features of the next version for Office for Mac, dubbed Office 2011.

Microsoft said that Windows compatibility would come in the form of feature parity, interoperability, and a greater degree of standardization of user interface with Office 2010 for Windows. A new Outlook for Mac will replace Entourage as the Exchange Server client for Mac, and will support .PST files. Other new features include the Windows Ribbon toolbar, access to Office Web Apps, and coauthoring.

A Microsoft spokesperson said that Office 2011 will ship in the fourth quarter, "in time for the holiday shopping season," according to a spokesperson.

Interface and Features

Microsoft said that greater interface consistency with Office for Windows would make it easier for Mac users who switch back and forth between the two versions.

"Three-quarters of Office Mac users use Windows at least once a week," said a Microsoft spokesperson.

Ribbon. Microsoft didn't show a working demo of Office 2011, but did release a few screenshots of the new version. New is the addition of the Ribbon toolbar, which has been a part of the Window version since Office 2007. The new design retains the standard Mac menu bar, however, and tries to retain a Mac look and feel, possibly more than does Office 2008. The new Ribbon bears some similarity to the toolbars of Office 2004, and enables the user to move items around.

Coauthoring. Office 2011 will also support coauthoring over a network, where multiple Mac and Windows users will be able to make changes to an open document at the same time. The file can be located on a local file server or on Microsoft's Windows Live service and the Sky Drive (online storage space). Coauthoring locks a file at the paragraph level, allowing different users do edit different paragraphs.

In coauthoring mode, the Office application will identify which users are currently editing the document. Click on a user, and you choose to email or the user or start an instant messaging session using Microsoft Messenger.

Web Apps. Office 2011 will provide access to Office Web Apps from within the Office applications. Users will be able to switch between the Web Apps and the local desktop Office application, which has more features. The file gets saved to the server. Office Web Apps are currently in beta.

As Microsoft announced last May, it will be returning VBA macros to Office 2011. The company removed support in Office 2008.

The return of Outlook for Mac

A new Outlook for Mac will replace Entourage as the suite's email and Exchange Server groupware client. Microsoft promised greater feature parity with the Outlook for Windows client than Entourage has, and may prevent some problems that Entourage users face. Like Entourage Web Services Edition, Outlook for Mac will communicate with Exchange Server 2007 and later using Exchange Web Services.

Microsoft announced that Outlook 2011 will be able to import .PST files from Outlook for Windows, enabling users to move messages stored on Windows clients to Outlook on the Mac.

Outlook will also sport a new database for holding local email messages. Instead of the single file that Entourage uses, Outlook will use a database of multiple files. Mac users will be able to use Spotlight to search the database, and will be able to use Time Machine to back it up. Microsoft also described the new database as "high-speed" and "reliable." MacWindows readers have often reported instances of Entourage database corruption (see here, for instance).

Outlook for Mac will also support Information Rights Management, another feature of Windows Office. This features lets administrators set rights to open a certain email using Microsoft's Rights Management Server.

Microsoft shipped the last Outlook for Mac, Outlook 2001 for Mac OS 9, almost nine years ago. Microsoft never created a Mac OS X sites, but many sites continued to run Outlook 2001 using the Mac OS X Classic environment of PowerPC Macs.

When Entourage first replaced Outlook, MacWindows complained of the lack of features in Entourage that were found in Outlook 2001, such as support of .PST files. Microsoft added several Exchange client features to Entourage as time went on, culminating in Entourage Web Services Edition. But Entourage never achieved feature parity with Outlook.

Return to our full coverage of Macworld Expo 2010 cross-platform announcements.

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