Microsoft's Office XML lags on Mac

Microsoft is readying a new version of Office for Macintosh for release in the first half of 2004 — one which doesn’t support many of the much-touted XML features of its Windows cousin, Office 2003.

Although Office 2004 for Macintosh will read and write Excel files saved in XML format, it won’t support other XML file formats, including WordML, and won’t have any equivalent to Office 2003 features such as XML data binding, “smart” documents, schema libraries and XSL stylesheet support.

Without better XML support companies with mixed Macintosh and PC desktops could be faced with the choice of not adopting the XML features or limiting them to Windows desktops only.

Office 2004 also has no equivalent to InfoPath, a new application introduced with Office 2003 for designing and completing XML-based forms.

Microsoft announced the new version of the office suite this month at the Macworld convention in San Francisco. Office 2004 is due in the first half of the year.

Roz Ho, the general manager of Microsoft’s Macintosh business unit, says the company chooses which features to implement based on customer demand and broad XML support didn’t make the shortlist.

“We did see a strong customer need to support Excel XML,” she says. Asked whether a future version of Office for Macintosh might include better XML support, she says the company is always evaluating its products. “If the need arises for that, we’ll look at it very seriously.”

Ho is nevertheless bullish about the new version, which she says demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to the Macintosh. “Office 2004 is our proudest accomplishment.”

Ironically, file compatibility is touted as a major feature of Office 2004. Tim McDonough, director of marketing and business development at the Macintosh business unit, says file compatibility is “paramount”.

The Compatibility Report tool allows users to check whether a document will display as intended in various file formats. If a feature is not supported, users can choose to “fix” the incompatibility. Rotated images in PowerPoint, for example, can be “fixed” to display in older versions of the program.

Word 2004 includes a notebook layout view, with an appearance similar to a tabbed notebook.

Items can be flagged and linked to calendar items in Entourage, Office 2004’s email and calendar program. Similarly, Excel 2004’s uses a page view as default, allowing users to preview their spreadsheet as it would appear in print. Spreadsheets can be resized to fit a page with a single dialogue.

Entourage has also gained project planning features. Projects can be shared over networks, archived and tracked through Entourage’s email and calendar tools.

Microsoft also announced that updates to Virtual PC, a hardware emulator that can be used to run x86 operating systems such as Linux or Windows XP on a Mac, and MSN for Macintosh will be made during the first half of the year.

Office 2004 will include Word, Excel, Entourage and PowerPoint. A new Professional version will bundle Virtual PC and a Windows XP licence.

Microsoft is the largest developer for the Mac other than Apple. Ho says 160 fulltime staff work at the Macintosh business unit. Word, Excel and PowerPoint were all originally developed on the Macintosh and later ported to Windows. Microsoft Access and Visio were never available on the Mac, while Entourage is offered on the Macintosh instead of Outlook.

Two new applications released for Office 2003, InfoPath and OneNote, are Windows-only. Microsoft Project for Macintosh is no longer developed.

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