Microsoft has announced that it will start mass-producing copies of Mac Office 2004 next week, intending to have it on retail store shelves by the third week of May.

Microsoft Mac Business Unit product manager Jessica Sommer told MacCentral: "The code for Office 2004 will be released to manufacturing on April 14. In the next few weeks, six localized versions of Office 2004 for Mac will be released to manufacturers: French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Swedish."

Mac Business Unit general manager Roz Ho said: "Customer feedback on early versions of Office 2004 for Mac has been overwhelmingly positive; we are really excited to get it out the door and into the hands of our customers. The entire Mac BU has been working hard through research, development and testing to build a new version of Office for Mac that meets our customers' evolving needs. I couldn't be more proud of the talented team of Mac users in the Mac BU."

Looking up

Microsoft was reportedly initially disappointed with sales of the Mac OS X version of Office which was released months after the launch of OS X. Sommer told Cnet: "Sales have improved, as more Mac users have switched to new versions of the Mac OS. We've seen stronger sales in the past year than in the first year. That's pretty obviously due to OS X adoption."

According to MacCentral, analysts feel that the contribution that Office makes to the Macintosh platform cannot be underestimated in Apple's push for more customers.

Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told MacCentral: "Without Mac Office, Apple would have a harder time selling systems to companies where the productivity suite is essential; considering Macs are often run in shops where Windows dominates, cross-platform availability is a major consideration. About 90 per cent of business users run Office, so the Mac version is a must-have product in Apple's catalogue."

According to Jupiter Research, 11 per cent of businesses with $50 million revenue or greater, report running Office v. X, while another 8 per cent plan Office 2004 upgrades this year.

Wilcox added: "People forget that Microsoft's early application success was on the Macintosh first, with Excel and Word, long before Windows. No operating system is successful without good applications, so, from that perspective Apple owes much to Microsoft."

As part of a technology guarantee program Microsoft announced at the beginning of the year, those who purchased Office software since January will get a free upgrade. For others, the upgrade to the standard edition will cost £194. The full price is £329.