Microsoft's second-generation Mac OS X business-productivity suite Office 2004 will be announced today.
Three configurations of the product are available: Standard Edition; Student and Teacher Edition; and Professional Edition. The latter iteration will be on release later this year, as it will contain a rebuilt version of Virtual PC 7, capable of running on G5 -powered Macs.
Standard Edition ships with Word 2004, Excel 2004, PowerPoint 2004, Entourage 2004 and MSN Messenger 4.0.
Student and Teacher Edition is the same as the Standard edition, but is being made available at a discounted price to qualified teachers and students.
The Professional Edition also consists of the same core product, boosted by Virtual PC 7.0 and a copy of Microsoft's Windows XP professional operating system.
20 years of MS Word
The release also marks 20 years of the company offering Mac products, introducing Microsoft Word v.1 on the Mac before any other platform.
Microsoft software marketing manager Belinda Sinclair said: "Office 2004 for Mac offers an extensive set of new tools designed to help Mac users better manage, create and share information."
The company has engaged in a wave of research in order to identify new features – such as the capacity to record audio notes using a Mac's built-in microphone in the new Notebook Layout View.
Sinclair stressed the Microsofts aim: "To deliver the most compelling Mac computing experiences in the industry." The release is festooned with features that are being introduced first on the platform.
Project Center is a new customizable and automizable feature that can manage all incoming emails, files, contacts, meetings and tasks related to a project. This feature offers strong support for workgroups, enabling users to share information – which can include images, PDF and other file types – with others in assigned groups. Access levels are also provided.
Along with audio recording, Notebook view (which is designed to look like a ruled notebook) lets users take notes, search and flag information. It's also capable of entering time stamps in data as it's entered – a feature the company suggests will be invaluable for minute-taking if used in conjunction with the audio recording feature.
Office 2004's new Scrapbook view lets Office users store details they need, such as logos and images for use in projects. Excel also now provides a welcome page layout view, so as you add data to a file, you will be able to preview the appearance of the final printed page. The spreadsheet package also delivers a host of new charting tools that make creating charts and graphs much easier, and error reporting and smart buttons that manipulate how text appears in the spreadsheet.
Compatibility Reports are a new feature of the release. These will assess any given document for its compatibility with other platforms, for example, when you save a Word file you will be offered advice as to which versions of Word you eventually want the document to open in and also which platforms you expect to dispatch the document to.
The productivity suite supports translucent palettes that allow users to see documents behind a palette. The all-new Toolbox Palette combines Word's tools within one place with a tabbed interface use to access different features.
The suite also offers a long-requested feature: when copying and pasting data between documents, users are offered a choice of keeping or losing the formatting existent in the source document, or auto-configuring the data to adopt the formatting that exists in the destination document.
Entourage provides new features, including a built-in Junk Mail feature and a three-pane view that makes it much easier to read through the text of a selected email. Another nice feature: When its set-up Project Manager will automatically apply the correct colour-coding to an incoming email, and add that email to a pre-defined Project Manager file. Microsoft has also made it far easier to archive and export emails and projects.
PowerPoint has been cosmetically improved – and Microsoft has taken a leaf out of Apple's book with the introduction of new transitions, such as the moving cube, that were already available within Keynote.
PowerPoint also offers a new Presenter's view, so when you are delivering a presentation you can see the script, see an on-screen clock, see what the audience sees, and also see what is coming up next. 100 new design palettes, a ClipArt gallery, and support for transparency
Microsoft's Mac Business Unit general manager Roz Ho said: "I've seen the evolution of our products first-hand, and Office 2004 is our proudest accomplishment to date."
Microsoft Office 2004 Standard Edition costs £369, upgrade pricing is £219. The Student and Teacher edition is £119.99. Prices include VAT, Professional Edition pricing hasn't yet been announced.