Microsoft today promised it will replace the often-hated Entourage e-mail client in its Office for the Mac with a version of Outlook by late 2010.
"Outlook for Mac will deliver the functionality that businesses have come to expect from Outlook on Windows," said Eric Wilfred, the general manager of Microsoft's Mac Business Unit (MacBU) in a conference call this morning.
"Outlook for Mac and Outlook for Windows will be different, for sure, and they will also be compatible, for sure," Wilfred added when asked what kind of parity users should expect between the two applications.
Microsoft will ship the next version of Office for Mac -- which doesn't yet have an official title -- in "time for the holiday season in 2010," Wilfred said.
Mac users have long complained that Entourage, the e-mailer bundled with Mac versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint in Office for Mac 2008, is a poor cousin of Outlook, the application used by Windows customers. Their complaints have centered on Entourage's inability to connect as seamlessly to corporate Exchange mail servers as does Outlook.
Before Microsoft launched Office for Mac 2008, in fact, MacBU developers explicitly said Entourage's reliability and stability were more important than making the program a clone of Windows' Outlook.
Wilfred reversed MacBU's course today. "Outlook for Mac will refresh not just the front end, but the guts of the application," he said during the call. "Outlook for Mac will bring features our customers have long requested -- such as information rights management -- that make working across platforms even easier. I think people will see that this move to Outlook for Mac is more than just a name change."
The new program will be built using Cocoa, Apple's development environment, which consists of a collection of frameworks, APIs (application programming interfaces) and runtimes that let engineers create Mac OS X native software. Outlook for Mac will also sport a new, more robust database to store e-mails, events, notes and to-dos, said Wilfred, and the database will support backups done with Apple's Time Machine software and indexing via Mac OS X's integrated Spotlight search engine.
Outlook for Mac will build on Entourage 2008, Web Services Edition, software that Microsoft unveiled last January, and which has been in beta testing since then. Entourage Web Services Edition uses Exchange's native connectivity protocol through an API to put the client on a more equal footing with the Windows-based Outlook when it comes to synchronizing with Exchange.
"Entourage for Web Services Edition is a stepping stone to something bigger ... Outlook for Mac," Wilfred said.
Microsoft posted Entourage for Web Services Edition on the MacBU download site today, where users of Office for Mac 2008 can grab the 65MB update.
Wilfred also announced that starting Sept. 15, Microsoft will pare the number of Office for Mac editions from three to two, dropping Special Media Edition and renaming the standard version as "Business Edition."
Business will include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage for Web Services Edition; Document Connection for Mac, a tool it also introduced in January that helps improve access and browsing to documents on SharePoint and Technologies and on Office Live Workspace; new business-oriented clip art and templates; and a seven-hour series of online training.
Microsoft added Document Connection for Mac to Office for Mac 2008 with the update to Service Pack 2 (SP2) last month.
Business Edition will be priced at $US399.95 for the full version, $US239.95 for the upgrade; pre-orders for Business Edition will start Aug. 18. Home and Student Edition's price remains at $US149.95.
Wilfred dodged questions during the call about Microsoft bringing Office for Mac to Apple's iPhone, a move many had speculated would be the focus of today's announcement. "That's a popular question," Wilfred acknowledged today. "But no, there's no news today about any iPhone work."
Microsoft had previously committed to bringing back Visual Basic support in the next version of Office for Mac -- another sop to business users -- and Wilfred repeated that promise today. "Visual Basic will be back," he said. Visual Basic was used in Office for Mac 2004 to provide macro-making capabilities, but Microsoft scrubbed it from the 2008 version.
On any integration with Snow Leopard, Apple's Mac OS X upgrade some now expect to see later this month, he said Microsoft had nothing to say. "Apple has not shared any features of Snow Leopard's Exchange support with us," he said.
Snow Leopard is to include built-in support for Exchange 2007, and so will make it possible for corporate customers to connect and sync to their Exchange mail servers using the operating system's bundled Mail, iCalc and Address Book applications.