Microsoft Corp. will release future versions of Microsoft Office in an alternating pattern between the Windows and Macintosh platforms, with each new version leapfrogging the one before it in terms of features, Ben Waldman, general manager of the Macintosh business unit at Microsoft, said in an interview with IDG News Service today.
The strategy was set in motion yesterday when Office 98 Macintosh Edition was unveiled at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Mac users were surprised to learn that their version includes installation, file recovery and other features not available in the current Windows version of the popular software suite.
The Macintosh version, due to ship in March, will be followed by Office 98 for Windows, which will include some of the features in the new Macintosh version as well as additional features of its own, Waldman said. The new features will focus on easing the deployment and maintenance of software, making the suite more attractive to enterprise customers, Waldman said.
Such parallel development of Microsoft Office for the two operating systems may have seemed unlikely a year ago when the Windows platform was seen by many as the nemesis to Apple Computer Inc.'s MacOS. But relations between the companies have thawed of late, in particular since the news five months ago that Microsoft would invest US$150 million in the ailing computer maker.
Waldman rebuffed speculation that releasing a full-featured Office 98 for the Macintosh might hurt sales of Windows-based PCs -- where Microsoft derives the bulk of its software sales. On the contrary, the move strengthens Microsoft by broadening the market for its software, he said.
For example, he said some businesses working in cross-platform environments have delayed installing Office 97 for Windows because its file formats are incompatible with those of the current version of Office for Macintosh, making it hard for workers to share documents across the platforms. From now on, file formats in Office for Macintosh and Windows will be the same, making customers more likely to upgrade to a new release of Microsoft Office sooner, he said.
Another plus for Microsoft is that the new Office 98 for the Macintosh comes preinstalled with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser software, Waldman noted.
"This can only help us sell more software; it can only be a good thing," Waldman said. "If a customer buys a Macintosh computer, we'll have Office for them; if they buy a PC, we'll have Office for them."
Microsoft's operating systems division sees Apple as a competitor, but its applications division is "platform agnostic," -- favoring neither the Mac OS or Windows, said Waldman, a lifetime Microsoft employee and the person who led the development team for Office 97 for Windows.
"We're not told to develop Mac applications that run less well than Windows applications," he said, adding that he doesn't care if customers buy Macintosh or IBM-type PCs, so long as they buy Microsoft software.
Features included in the Macintosh version of Office 98 that do not appear in the current Windows version include a drag-and-drop technology that enables users only to drag a folder from a CD-ROM to their hard drive to install the suite, and "self-repairing" applications that replace accidentally deleted system files. The software also supports Apple technologies like QuickTime VR (virtual reality).
Microsoft closely guards the timetable for releases of Office, and Waldman would not say when users can expect Office 98 for Windows to be released. Nor would he say which features from the Macintosh version will appear in Office 98 for Windows.
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or on the World Wide Web at http://www.microsoft.com/. Apple, based in Cupertino, California, can be reached at +1-408-996-1010 and at http://www.apple.com/.