Microsoft Office 98 will hit the shelves in March, but users of Microsoft operating systems will have to wait a few months for it. Initially, the application suite will be available only on the Mac OS platform, with a Windows version following in the second half of the year.
Office 98 is the first update to Office for Mac since Office 4.2 in 1995. That version was so poorly received by Mac users, who hated its Windows-like interface and functionality, that many opted to stay with the previous version. For those customers, Office 98 for Mac is the first update in four years.
Lars Marcher, Apple Australia marketing manager, said Apple would be emphasising the fact that the release is first on the Mac and that several of its features are only on the Mac (because they use Mac-specific technologies such as scripting and QuickTime VR). Some of the new features in Office 98 for Mac are already in Office 97 for Windows, but require Mac OS 8 (released last August) to work on the Mac.
When asked about the wisdom of not releasing the different platforms' versions simultaneously, Microsoft Australia managing director Eugenio Beaufrand said "synchronising the releases is obviously something we'd like to see, but the priority is to make these features available as soon as possible, and to take the best advantage of new features that the operating system provides as soon as possible." He said he expected the lag time between platform releases to decrease over the next few years.
File formats across the platforms are now identical, so that Office 98 will seamlessly recognise files from Office 97 for Windows without the need for translation. Collaboration features across platforms have also been improved for customers in mixed-platform environments.
Amongst the new features is "self-repairing" applications.
If you launch an application, and it finds that support files it needs have been damaged or removed, Office can restore those files without having to reinstall the application or even refer to the CD. Installation has been greatly simplified, and now consists of merely dragging a folder from the Office CD to your hard drive. Support files, such as Extensions, are installed when you first run each application. Microsoft would not say whether the Windows version would support this type of installation.
The suite includes new versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as Internet Explorer 4 and Outlook Express, an e-mail client. Microsoft said Outlook 98 will be released in "a couple of months", as well as a Mac version of the FoxPro 98 database.
It requires a Power Mac or compatible system with at least System 7.5.5 (some features require Mac OS 8); 16MB RAM (32MB recommended); and at least 49MB of available hard drive space (up to 120MB for a full installation).
Microsoft Office 98 for Mac will be available in March for $739, or an upgrade from previous versions is $439.
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