Q&A: From Macworld Conference & Expo 2007, the head of Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit discusses the story behind the next generation of Microsoft’s productivity software suite for the Mac.
Microsoft continues to deliver world-class technology products for the Mac platform – as it has for more than 20 years. Founded in 1997, Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (Mac BU) is a leading developer of productivity software for Mac customers worldwide. Currently available products include Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac, a productivity suite that is comprised of the e-mail application and personal-information manager Entourage 2004, Word 2004, Excel 2004 and PowerPoint 2004; and Microsoft Messenger for Mac 6.0.
PressPass spoke with Roz Ho, general manager for the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit, about the Mac BU’s work to build next generation software for Apple Corporation’s Intel-based Macs and about announcements Microsoft is making at Macworld Conference & Expo 2007, being held this week in San Francisco.
PressPass: What have you announced at Macworld Conference & Expo 2007?
Roz Ho: This year we are thrilled to announce our intent to deliver the first Universal version of Office for Mac – Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. The new version of our productivity suite is designed to work seamlessly for users on either Intel-based Macs or PowerPCs. Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is expected to be available in the second half of 2007, and will provide Mac users with tools designed to be simple, intuitive and easily discovered – to help them work smarter and more efficiently. We are excited to get this next version out as another example of our team’s dedication to building leading-edge products for the Mac platform.
PressPass: What would you say are the key differentiators in the new version?
Ho: With Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, we focused on what our users want the most – compatibility with PCs, along with unique features for their Mac experience. Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is packed with new, Mac-first, Mac-only features that are designed to provide a unique, engaging and definitively Mac experience, along with new collaboration elements to provide increased compatibility with the 2007 Microsoft Office system for Windows.
Mac customers have told us they want quick access to tools and features within Office, and we’ve made a lot of improvements to deliver that. We share a new graphics engine with our Microsoft Windows counterparts, called Office Art 2.0, and we have a new UI that introduces the Elements Gallery. Both of these features leverage Apple OS capabilities to retain a Mac-like look and feel while taking advantage of new technologies.
The other important change with this version is that like the 2007 Office system, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac will be based in the Office Open XML Format – which was approved in December by the standards body ECMA International as an international standard. Office for Mac users will benefit from the ability to access raw XML data within the file without having to parse the entire document, and ZIP-based container technology, allowing for easier recovery of corrupted documents and smaller file sizes.
PressPass: Since Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac will be released after the 2007 Office system, how will customers be able to access the new XML files in the 2007 Office system now to ensure compatibility?
Ho: We’re building file-format converters that will allow Mac users to access Office Open XML Format following the general availability of the 2007 Office system at the end of January. We will release a public beta version of the converters in the spring of 2007, and final versions of the converters will ship six to eight weeks after Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is available. For now, we recommend that Mac users advise their friends and colleagues using the 2007 Office system to save their documents as a “Word/Excel/PowerPoint 97-2003 Document” (.doc, .xls, .ppt) to ensure the documents can be easily shared across platforms.
PressPass: It seems like it takes longer to issue Mac converters than the Windows-based converters, which are already available. Why is this the case?
Ho: In order to develop file-format converters, we had to wait until the 2007 Office system bits and the new file format itself were locked down and complete. We spent the last year and a half preparing and planning for our own development of file format converters for Office for Mac. This process included support work of a rich and compatible XML parser, code to understand the new package structure, and beginning work on reading and writing early development versions of the file format. Now that 2007 Office system for Windows is being released, we are working to complete compatibility with the released formats, and we will release converters once they have been tested thoroughly.
PressPass: How come other vendors, like TextEdit, were able to develop converters before the Mac BU?
Ho: It’s great that TextEdit can read the basic data in the file, but we have a different mandate when it comes to compatibility with the 2007 Microsoft Office system, and file fidelity is paramount. For instance, when we ship a Word converter, our customers expect us to make sure page layout is preserved for every Word document, which requires a lot more engineering effort than just importing the text. We are working hard to make sure the converters are high quality, and we’re working on them at the same time we’re working on Office 2008 for Mac
PressPass: Which versions of Office for Mac will have converters?
Ho: We have committed to providing convertersfor the current version of Office 2004 for Mac. However, we will assess file-format converters for earlier versions of Office for Mac following the release of beta converters in the spring
PressPass: What will the experience be when using converters?
Ho: The converters will be available as a download from the Mac BU Web site. Once installed, the tool will allow Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac users to natively read Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac files. Users can then work in the documents as if they were created in their current file format. Documents sent to users of the 2007 Office system for Windows will be read easily, since the 2007 Office system supports the current file formats.
PressPass: How are you working with Apple to make the switch to Intel?
Ho: Microsoft’s Mac customers are very important, and Apple recognizes and supports our contributions to the platform. Interim solutions, such as Apple’s Rosetta, enable Office for Mac to run on the Intel machines while we finalize the Universal binaries that will make it possible to run this product natively on PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs. Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is being built for both kinds of machine to ensure all Mac users have access to the best Mac productivity suite. The success of our first Universal application, Microsoft Messenger for Mac 6.0, which was launched in September 2006, is a testament of our dedication to the Mac platform and to our customers to create the best Mac products.
PressPass: What else is on the horizon for the Mac BU?
Ho: As I’ve mentioned, we’re continuing to develop our core products that Mac users depend on. We’ll keep supporting them and delivering new features and improvements. Beyond Office and Messenger, we’re also working on a free, Universal version of Remote Desktop Client.
Compatibility is a top customer concern, and the work that we are doing with the new XML file formats, layout engines and graphics handling will drive improved file compatibility. Customers know they’ll have more than the ability to open and share data, they know they can trust the data will appear the way it was intended.
Finally, we’ll keep working with Apple to identify new technologies that will benefit our customers, including new opportunities that will arrive with Apple’s Leopard OS. We’ll also continue to collaborate closely with other Microsoft teams to develop new and creative ways to deliver answers to common productivity problems. The future is bright for the Mac BU, and we intend to be making top-tier Mac software for a very long time.