Microsoft launching a Website dedicated to another computer company? MacTopia, a new Web site for Macintosh users took its place alongside Expedia, Sidewalk and the other constituents of Microsoft's Web publishing empire yesterday.
Ben Waldman, general manager of the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit, described MacTopia as "an online oasis for our Macintosh customers. Our goal is to create a vibrant and interactive Web site as creative as the Mac customers we serve."
Waldman says the idea for the site was born out of his team's frustration with the experience Mac customers encountered when seeking information about Macintosh products on the general Microsoft home page.
"People really had to search to find quality Mac information on Microsoft's site," Waldman said. "Through Microsoft MacTopia, we can expand our efforts to provide great resources and support for the Macintosh platform."
Microsoft has also rolled out new versions of Outlook Express and Internet Explorer for the Macintosh, both of which include features not available in the current Windows versions of the products, Microsoft officials said at Macworld Expo here.
The new applications -- Internet Explorer Version 4.5 and Outlook Express Version 4.5 -- are available immediately in eight languages: English, French, German, Swedish, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Danish.
Internet Explorer 4.5 for the Mac includes an "adjustable print preview" that allows users to print multiple Web pages to a single page, and to see how the Web page will appear before actually printing it. It also includes a "form autofill" feature that automatically enters common personal information into forms on the Web, such as name, age and telephone number.
In an appearance during the keynote given by Steve Jobs, Waldman, heralded the new products as the latest symbol of a "new spirit of cooperation" between the companies.
Microsoft will no longer offer Macintosh users "simply a port, a mere sub-set of a Windows application," Waldman said. The new Macintosh programs were built from the ground up for the Mac, he added.
Macintosh users at the show were divided over the new, cosy relationship between the firms, which came about after Microsoft agreed to invest US$150 million in Apple last year.
When Waldman first appeared on stage he was met by the Apple crowd with a decidedly lukewarm reception, with a few boos and murmurs of disapproval. When he excitedly announced the special version of Internet Explorer for the Mac, the news was met with a deafening silence.
Users questioned after the keynote were more pragmatic, however.
"Microsoft is out there, they're not going away, so we may as well work together. Cross-platform compatibility needs to be embraced," said Daniel Kees, a print process engineer with CD-ROM maker Metatec in Fremont, California.
"The sooner we finish this battle with Microsoft and work together the better," Kees added.
Another Mac user said he had grown frustrated waiting for Microsoft to "play catch up" with Macintosh versions of Windows software applications, and welcomed the new cooperation.
"It's important that Microsoft continues to develop products for the Macintosh because a lot of businesses have been standardising on (Windows) software, but a lot of them still use Apple computers as well," said Don Carnahan, a business development worker in Renton, Washington.
"I think the guy (Waldman) had a lot of nerve to stand up there in front of us -- I sort of admire him for it," said Carnahan. "Microsoft and Apple have to get along, that's what the industry needs."
Rivalry between the companies stretches back almost to the start of the PC revolution, when Apple fans believe Microsoft stole Apple's idea for a user-friendly graphical interface and used it to help make Windows the industry giant it is today.
Then last year Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates surprised the Apple clan, appearing on a huge screen at Macworld Expo to announce a $150 million investment in the computer maker and plans for the firms to work together on joint product development.
A year and a half later the alliance appears to be holding strong. Today, Jobs described Apple's relationship with Microsoft as being like a marriage. "It's terrific 99% of the time and about one percent we argue over stuff ... in life that's not a bad ratio," he said.
New features in Internet Explorer 4.5 and Outlook Express 4.5, Macintosh Editions, that are not in the Windows versions of the products include the following:
-- A Page Holder feature in IE 4.5 allows users to divide a window into two panes, placing one page with links in the left pane while displaying the corresponding content in the right pane. This is designed to alleviate the task for users of clicking the Back button to return to the page where they started.
-- Adjustable Print Preview in IE 4.5 allows users to view a Web page before printing, and provides multiple layout and graphics options that will alter the printed page to a user's specifications. Internet Explorer 4.5 also automatically scales most Web pages to fit one page.
-- Drag & Drop Install. First pioneered in Office 98, this is a new way to install Internet Explorer and Outlook Express 4.5, using a simple drag and drop method.
-- Self-repairing applications. To make it easier for users to manage their software, Internet Explorer and Outlook Express 4.5 are designed to be self-maintaining. The browser and e-mail
program proactively fix problems without requiring user intervention.
-- Mac OS 8.5 Sherlock integration. IE 4.5 supports Sherlock, a recently introduced Mac OS 8.5 search technology that lets users search multiple Web search engines with a single search.
-- Auto Text Clean Up. A set of tools in Outlook Express 4.5 that helps users improve the look and readability of incoming e-mail messages.
The Mactopia site is at http://www.microsoft.com/mac.