Office 2008 for Mac hits store shelves

After four years of waiting, Mac users are finally able to get their hands on a new version of Microsoft's productivity suite for the platform.

The suite is a major step forward for those who prefer to use the Redmond company's applications for the Mac platform. Since its last update in 2004, much has changed on the Windows side: this effectively brings Apple customers up to speed.

While the software borrows some from the recently released Windows version of Office, Microsoft also kept in mind the unique needs and features of Mac OS X. It also supports the company's Office OpenXML platform natively.

"We developed Office 2008 for Mac as a comprehensive productivity suite that also helps people simplify their work," Mac BU head Craig Eisler said. "At the core, we focused on delivering reliable compatibility so that users can confidently share documents across platforms."

Office 2008 will improve the cross-compatibility between Windows and Mac. Microsoft says documents will look the same when opened on either platform, and will run faster on Intel Macs due to its Universal Binary support.

Entourage also has received a significant retooling, catching it up with the Outlook client on Windows. The new UI of Office has also made its way into the OS X version, however with a decidedly Mac feel.

Microsoft said it also wanted to ensure that users could use any of its products without much worry for learning the ins and outs of each program. For example, applications that are harder to master like Excel will come with guides that assist in using the program more effectively.

As announced earlier, the suite will come in three options. The base version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage, retailing for $239.95 for the upgrade and $399.95 for the full version.

Home and Student comes with three licenses, and includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and a non-Exchange enabled version of Entourage. Retail price there is $149.95.

Finally, Special Media Edition includes all the options of the base version, adding Expression Media. That retails for $499.95 for the full version, and $299.95 for the upgrade, Microsoft said.

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