Office For Mac Planned For Mid-2007

Mac fanatics are never happy to hear this, but outside of Apple , the biggest Macintosh developer is none other than Microsoft.

Granted, the 180 developers in the Macintosh Business Unit, or Mac BU as Microsoft  likes to call it, is a pittance compared to the 5,000 working on Vista. But Microsoft’s continued support of the Mac (over 20 years and counting), through lean times and lawsuits, is impressive.

The Mac BU currently develops Macintosh versions of Office, Messenger, Virtual PC and Remote Desktop Client. Microsoft used to develop a Mac version of Internet Explorer but ceased development in 2003.

Earlier this year at MacWorld, Microsoft promised it would support the Mac for at least five more years.

Its next big release will be Office for Macintosh, code-named Office 12, due around six to eight months after the release of the latest Windows version of Office, expected in January. Development of the next Mac version of Office couldn’t even begin until recently.

The BU recently hit a milestone of converting all of its Macintosh application code to Apple’s Xcode, the Macintosh platform for developing a single set of binaries that are compatible with new Intel-based Macs as well as older PowerPC-based machines.

Industry analyst Rob Enderle said the Mac BU, which, like Apple, operates out of Silicon Valley, is as dedicated a bunch of Mac users as you’ll find.

“The Mac division in Microsoft is closer to Apple than it is to Microsoft,” he said. “You will not find a more Apple group outside Apple. They wouldn’t touch a Windows machine if you broke both their legs and held both hands in the fire.”

But Apple hasn’t always repaid the loyalty. Enderle claimed the Mac BU wasn’t informed of Apple’s switch to Intel  until the day it happened. “They needed to know six months in advance. All this time was spent porting the code when they could have been working on the application,” he said.

Apple’s migration to Intel won’t make development easier, but will present new opportunities for Microsoft developers, said Sheridan Jones, lead marketing manager for the Mac BU.

“There will be speed enhancements, and we can take advantage of the MacOS itself. “There’s lots of things in the OS we can take advantage of,” he said.

The move to Xcode means that Microsoft’s Mac group can now start to move over to the Intel architecture. However, it does not mean that the Mac unit will simply take the code developed for the Windows version of Office and port it over.

“It won’t be exactly the same experience. There is not 1:1 parity between the two, but we work to make sure there is a high degree of compatibility,” said Jones. “A PC customer can sit down at a Mac and have a familiar experience, but it won’t be identical.”

There will be some Windows Office code used in Office for the Mac, but only select pieces, said Jones. A good example is the file formats. Office 2007 is moving to XML file formats, so Mac Office will pick up the same file formats to maintain compatibility.

For now, Jones said it was too soon to discuss features, Sharepoint integration, whether the “ribbon” interface will be included or when a beta might be due. Mac users can keep up with development at the Mac Mojo blog.

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