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Check out the new Office Macintosh Edition Web site for detailed information about Office 98. While you're at it, enter the "Win a Mac" sweepstakes, sponsored by Microsoft and Apple, for a chance to win a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh or a copy of Office 98 Macintosh Edition.
Traveling through the maze of corridors in Microsoft's Building 17, you come upon an intersection marked with a bright yellow sign pointing you toward Mac territory. It is a commonwealth with a population of 100 souls, a country within a country whose flag - if it had one - would bear this motto: MAC USERS ARE DIFFERENT.
This is the turf of Microsoft's new Macintosh Business Unit. Excitement is running high among the citizenry, because they are just about to ship a groundbreaking new product, one that celebrates the Mac difference - from underlying code to that beloved Macintosh gray color scheme. The Microsoft Office 98 Macintosh Edition will soon be ready to be drag-and-dropped onto the desktops of the world.
Mac Thinking Inspires Invention
The Office 98 Macintosh Edition is tough, fast - and built to handle Mac work habits. "PC types tend to be timid about altering their system files, but Mac users think nothing of it. It's part of the joy of using a Mac," said Product Planner Kevin Browne. "Our last release of Office for the Mac didn't take that into account. Any custom messing broke something in 4.2," he said, referring to the last version of Microsoft Office for Macintosh.
To create a complex suite of software hardy enough to survive Mac computing habits required defining the problem in a whole new way. This critical sidestep into Mac thinking led to innovations that "have the Windows guys drooling," according to Chad Magendanz, the lifelong Mac enthusiast who headed up the team's performance and interface design initiatives.
The solution was to make the whole of Office 98 a folder unto itself, self-contained and self-repairing, which lives independently on the user's desktop. "We expect users are going to want to customize," Browne said. "If they accidentally delete essential files in the process, the system is simply going to reinstall them from a hidden cache."
Unbreakable software? It's as close as anyone has come yet.
In Search of the Fast Mac
Speed is another tenet of the Office 98 creed. Group Program Manager Ebbe Altberg, who handpicked the team that built the product, required system setup and applications to be sleek and efficient. The result was a program that installs and launches like a dream.
Taken together, the applications that make up Office comprise about four million lines of code. "About ninety percent of that crosses platforms perfectly well," Magendanz said. "Our challenge was identifying the ten percent that needed and deserved to be completely rewritten for the Mac."
Magendanz's team discovered and corrected redundancies that had bulked up the programs and slowed the Mac down. The result: the Office 98 Macintosh Edition is leaner and meaner than its relatives on the PC side of the family. To prove it, Magendanz tried to out-type Word on the slowest of his test machines. No matter how fast his fingers flew, it couldn't be done.
Meet Your New Assistant
Mac users also get a helping hand from their new Office Assistant, an intelligent Help system that pops up and offers users task-based advice and options on the fly. "See?" Magendanz said, pointing to the perky animated Mac monitor onscreen. "He's actually stored as a QuickTime video."
QuickTime, and QuickTime VR, a virtual reality mulitmedia technology from Apple, is supported throughout Office 98. Users can drag an animation into an Excel spreadsheet as easily as into a Word doc or a PowerPoint presentation. "It doesn't sit on top, either. It's genuinely embedded in the documents," Magendanz said.
Many of the features that answer to the name "auto" - the ones that helpfully anticipate users' intentions, and correct their mistakes - have Mac users raving. The auto feature includes background grammar and spell checking in Word, formula correction in Excel, and the Auto-Web link feature that recognizes a Web address, puts it in proper form, and transforms it into a hot link.
Oh, So Compatible
If this rigorous attention to detail helps Mac fans feel at home inside the virtual walls of Office 98, it is file sharing and cross platform functionality that make them feel like first-class citizens of the computing world. Upwards of 90 percent of Mac users work in a cross-platform environment.
"File format compatibility is the number one selling point," Magendanz said, adding that it is essential for Mac users to be "able to interact with the rest of the world and not lose functionality or performance." Early reviews concede that in Office 98, Microsoft has built a "great Mac application."
Altberg is proud of the accomplishments of his "custom built" team. "What we've done is shown what can happen when people care, when they put their minds to it," Altberg said. "There've been a lot of work-a-holic nights, a lot of double overtime. It's an extremely dedicated bunch. Sometimes I wonder if I've done enough for them, you know?"