Microsoft has begun shipping a promotional Mac software package that includes fewer and simpler versions of the programs included in its popular office productivity suite, Office 2001 for Mac.

The software package, called Word + Entourage 2001 Special Edition, is a Mac equivalent to the lower priced Microsoft Works software suite for Windows.

It comes amid growing anticipation over the release of Microsoft's Office 10 for Macs, a software suite that will borrow features from the recently released Office XP for Windows. Consumers who purchase Word + Entourage 2001 Special Edition, which includes Microsoft's word-processing Word application and Mac-only email software, will be able to upgrade to Office 10 for Macs for US$149 when it is released sometime in the third quarter.

At the present time, Microsoft could not confirm when the product will go on sale in the UK, and at what price.

"We wanted to provide an opportunity for price-sensitive Mac users to take advantage of the industry's most popular word-processing application and the new email and personal information manager all for a great price," said Kevin Browne, general manager of the Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft.

"Combine that with the fact that Word + Entourage SE users will also qualify for the special upgrade price to Office 10 for Mac OS X when it becomes available, and it's clear this special package offers a lot of value."

Early X Apple released its newest operating system, Mac OS X, in March and began shipping it on all of its desktop and laptop computers in May. Apple has made concerted efforts to meet its deadline with the new operating system, actually shipping boxed versions and pre-installed versions of the software ahead of schedule.

Microsoft may be following Apple's lead with its own earlier than expected shipment, said Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group. The company said in January at Macworld Expo in San Francisco that it expected to have its first Mac OS X applications available in the third quarter of 2001.

"Typically Microsoft issues the Office copy for the Mac after they offer it for the PC," Enderle said. "It always lags by about a year."

But Office 10 for the Mac OS X - Microsoft's answer to its recently released Office XP productivity suite - is expected to be released only five or six months after its PC release, according to Kevin Browne, general manager of Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit.

Office 10 In the meantime, Microsoft is still banking on its Office 2001 productivity suite to drive sales. That software package - the best-selling of its kind, according to Enderle - was released in October of last year. It includes Excel and PowerPoint, in addition to Word and Entourage.

The estimated cost for a normal upgrade to Office 10 for Mac is about $299, Microsoft said. UK pricing has not been made available yet.

While many of the features will be the same for both operating systems, the Mac version of the small bundle of office productivity software includes the Entourage email software and other Mac-only features. It will run on the Mac's operating system version 8.1 and higher.

Word + Entourage 2001 Special Edition does not offer support for synchronization with Palm's handhelds, and a few other features such as toolbar customization and access to business templates, Microsoft said. Those features were left out to cut down on cost.

In addition to an English-language version of Word + Entourage 2001 SE, Microsoft said it will release a French version on August 6.