It’s been a long wait but Microsoft Office 2008 is finally on sale. It has been almost four years since the last revision of Office for the Mac, and while we waited, alternatives presented themselves in a changing market. In particular Apple's Pages launched in 2005 and challenged the standard conception of word processing by blending in a generous helping of page layout.

Where Apple leads, Microsoft follows. What Pages recognized was a new market for page layout not met by traditional word processors. With the launch of Word 2008 we see Microsoft address that very same market.

Macworld met with Microsoft Business Unit's Amanda Lefebvre at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Lefebvre described how changes in what Microsoft's customers require from the word processor, with more and more users looking to design more professional looking documents, lead the company to make page-layout features more accessible.

“Customers had been using Word to create layout rich documents, it just was a little bit difficult to do. They had to know how to navigate the menus. They had to know how to get the text to flow round the image. People were struggling with it, because even though Word had these capabilities by default, you really had to know how to use it,” she said.

It was not just office workers who wanted these features. “Everybody is using more media in their documents. A long time a go it might have just been a straight forward text document, now it's likely that people are sharing images in their family newsletter,” she added.

To meet this demand, Microsoft has focused on making these features of Word more accessible and easier to use. “One of the goals for this release was to allow people to rediscover the power of Office,” said Microsoft’s Han-Yi Shaw, lead program manager for Word, Compatibility, and User Experience. “Sometimes we get requests from power users for features we already have.”

New Elements

Adobe has also recognised that home users have more requirements than ever before when it comes to using media and has set about making such features more accessible in Photoshop Elements 6, due to launch for the Mac “towards the beginning” of Adobe’s second quarter, which starts in March.

“Having your photos look great isn’t always what’s important, it’s sending that out and showing them off to someone,” said Mark Dahm, senior product manager Adobe Photoshop Elements.

To that length Adobe has added a number of creative effects in Photoshop Elements 6. “It is no longer just about photo editing,” explained Dahm, “it’s about helping people tell their story together. We’ve added a lot of creative effects, backgrounds and frames that can help people visualise what they might want to create with their photos. It’s not just retouching, fixing, lighting and colour.”

That said; Adobe has focused on making the photo editing experience more intuitive for people in the latest version of Elements. “Looking at a menu with over a hundred items is pretty intimidating if you don’t know where to start,” said Dahm. “Adobe has done a lot of redecorating in the user interface to make that technology accessible.”

Most prominent in this redecoration is Adobe’s Guided Edit feature which explains the different things you can do with a photo, be it crop, rotate, fix lightness, or correct colour.

“This guide for editing a photo puts your photo editing tasks in order,” explained Dahm. “The order might not be obvious unless you’ve done a lot of editing. For example sharpening shouldn’t be the first thing you do with your photo. Photoshop Elements helps build some good habits for you as a photo editor.”