The next version of Microsoft's Office suite, slated for arrival during the fourth quarter of 2010, has a new name, enhanced functionality, and even a more streamlined look. TUAW met with members of the Microsoft Mac Business Unit (MacBU) on Thursday to hear how the developers of Office for Mac are responding to requests from users to make it easier to work on documents across platforms.
Some of the most welcome additions to the suite from an author's point of view are the co-authoring tools (see below). These tools enable Mac users to work on Office documents across platforms and locations, eliminating issues with version control. Office for Mac 2011 will have a Presence Everywhere feature providing status updates on who is working on a document at a particular time. The suite will also connect to Microsoft Office Web Apps (currently in beta) so that any Office documents can be shared or accessed from any Internet-connected computer.
Microsoft has taken a cue from the "tool ribbon" in the existing Windows Office applications and changed the Office for Mac user interface to be familiar to Windows users, yet intuitive to Mac users. The team noted that more than 80 percent of the features used most by Office users are now located in the tool ribbon so that the users don't have to dig around to find tools.
The MacBU had previously announced that the Office 2008 collaboration application, Entourage, would be replaced by Outlook for Mac. According to the team, Outlook for Mac utilizes the Exchange Web Services protocol and is a Cocoa app, providing not only additional Exchange compatibility but also better integration with Mac OS X. Many Microsoft customers had requested that Outlook for Mac have the ability to import .PST files from Outlook for Windows, and that wish has been granted. The single database used in Entourage is being replaced with a high-speed file-based database that works well with Spotlight and Time Machine.
If you need to make sure that sensitive documents or information are not spread outside the confines of your company's email system, Information Rights Management is now built into Outlook for Mac. That essentially puts a lock on sensitive information, insuring that it isn't readable by non-authorized personnel.
Microsoft's MacBU wants to hear from you! The team has a Twitter account (@OfficeforMac), a Facebook page, and a blog, and they'd love to hear your input about this application suite. We'll be sure to keep you updated as we get closer to the release date.