Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is now on sale in the US, and will go on sale in the UK on 16 January.

Apple's vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations Ron Okamoto said: "Office 2008 is the latest in a long line of great Office for Mac releases that get better with every version. It has many new features that help you work faster and with more ease, and Mac users will also love how seamless it is to share Office 2008 files with PC users."

Key to the new version of the Office suite are productivity improvements and simplified tools. Many of the new features allow basic users of the applications to access what were previously quite complex tools. For example, new templates in Excel allow give those with no knowledge of how to programme Excel formulas access to pre-designed spreadsheets where it is just a case of inputting the required data and the calculations will be done automatically.

New templates in Word open up desktop publishing functionality to general office workers and home users. Macworld met with Microsoft Business Unit's Amanda Lefebvre and Geoff Price at the Macworld Expo. Lefebvre described how changes in what Microsoft's customers require from the word processor, with more and more users are looking to design more professional looking documents, lead the company to make those 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.

"Instead of getting a new application or having to hire a specialist, people are using media more in their documents, a long time a go it might have just been a straight forward text document, now it's more likely that people are having images they are wanting to share in their family newsletter," she added.

Another crucial addition to the Mac Office Suite is the fact that Office 2008 shares the Open XML file format and graphics engine introduced with Office 2007 for Windows. This aspect of the update goes far to ensure compatibility with the two operating systems.

In addition this update is a fully universal update. Microsoft described how this is the biggest update in 10 years on account of the amount of work involved in recoding applications that are more than 20 years old. Microsoft needed to convert much of the legacy code, a challenge it shared with Adobe, who also had a big job getting its applications ready for the Intel Mac.

"It was a big job and we're glad to have finished it," said Price. Microsoft had initially promised the application would be ready to ship in the second half of 2007.

There are still features missing from the new Office suite that some users may require. For example, as yet Entourage emails are not able to be backed up via Time Machine, explained Lefebvre. However, significant enhancements have been made to the Entourage database management. For more information on the new features of Office 2008 read our Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac review.

While delivering the keynote address today, Apple CEO Steve Jobs praised Microsoft's Office update, refereeing to it as: "The last big application to go Intel native". He went on to thank Microsoft and Adobe.