The relationship between Microsoft and Apple remains "strong and productive", Microsoft's Mac Business Unit group product manager, Scott Erickson, told Macworld.

Erickson confirmed that sales of the company's Office product "are stronger than ever", adding: "We had a stellar launch - in the first three months of availability of Office 2004 we actually saw double the unit sales of the preceeding version, Office X. Virtual PC also doing really well, we're really happy about it."

iWork: Office will prevail

"Ensuring Mac and PC parity is our main focus in all our releases. We said last year that we are committed to this," he said.

Apple yesterday announced its own productivity suite, iWork. This includes PowerPoint alternative, Keynote 2, and word processing tool, Pages. Is Microsoft concerned?

Erickson countered with a stress on his company's strength and focus on interoperability - so a Mac PowerPoint file can contain an Excel-derived spreadsheet and be viewed on a Windows machine, for example.

"There are competitors to Office, and we're still here," Erickson said. "Apple has been making AppleWorks for a very long time, for example, and it really hasn't impacted our business at all. I wouldn't really see any strategy change for us. We remain committed to our customers."

Many users saw Apple's release of Keynote as indicative of a changing relationship between the two companies, but the release didn't damage Microsoft's leading Mac product at all, Erickson said, "our figures show a great two years - two of the best we have ever had."

Microsoft Mac-fest

Microsoft yesterday announced several new customer-focused software tweaks at the show, along with a new dedicated selection of online resources to help users get more from its productivity suite.

New software offerings (currently in beta) include: a tool to import emails and information from Outlook 2001 into Entourage; improved Exchange support for Entourage 2004; MSN Messenger for Mac Version 5.0.

Erickson also talked about Microsoft''s close work with Apple to ensure support for Mac OS X 10.4, Tiger. "We have been doing a lot of work together on Tiger support for Office," he said.

"We've worked with Apple and done the development work so when Tiger ships Spotlight will be able to index and search through Office documents across your Mac," he promised.

He also revealed Apple to have disclosed information pertaining to iSync – information third party developers, such as Microsoft, can use to bring iSync compatibility to their applications.

"Entourage will be able to sync with iSync in Tiger", he said, "that's going to be available as a free download when Tiger is launched."

Microsoft's migration song

In response to numerous user requests, the company has developed its .PST Import Tool. A beta version of this is available for download today, with the full version to be made available at no charge "later this year", Erickson promised. The tool lets users import emails and other information from Outlook 2001. The company wants user feedback on the beta.

As Macs emerge as acceptable tools for use within the enterprise, Microsoft's moved to improve Exchange support within Entourage 2004, which offered Exchange Server support for the first time.

Anticipated improvements within the update that's scheduled to ship in 2005's third quarter include: The capacity to view multiple calendars ("a small change customers really wanted"); increased integration with the Global Address List (GAL); better server and client synchronization and permissions.

The update also offers a better public folder experience and mailbox quota management tools, even within firewalls. "We have completely re-architected the way public folders work," he said

Msft msngr 5 4 Mac

MSN Messenger for Mac 5.0, which is likely to ship in the second quarter 2005, will offer all the communication features Mac users expect from this application, along with improved security and the capacity to add users listed within a company's Global Address List (GAL) or corporate address book. In a neat new twist, users will be able to view both corporate and personal accounts from one location

A fresh set of online resources are available from Microsoft today, Job Tools. This is an attempt to help customers make better use of their productivity tools, and to solicit more user feedback from Office workers.

"It's an opportunity to reach customers and to find out what they want. We are asking customers how we can improve our products," said Erickson.

Job Tools offers job-specific tips, expert articles and customizable templates to extend Office 2004. Today, the collection includes resources for K12 teachers, marketing professionals and small-business owners. The company will cater for other occupations in response to user feedback.

And, with strong unit sales for Office X, the Mac platform remains worthwhile, he said:

"The relationship remains really really strong and there will be no changes to that. We are totally committed to the Mac and our customers."

More from Macworld Expo San Francisco
Main round up page

Pre show image gallery

Keynote and show floor
Check back frequently for more news and image galleries from Macworld Expo.