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MacWindows Special Report: Microsoft Office 98 Macintosh Edition, cross-platform issues.

1/20/98 -- MacWindows tested the final beta version of Microsoft Office 98 Macintosh Edition, and found it to be packed with new features and interface enhancements. It also uses the same file formats as Office 97. When Microsoft Office 98 Macintosh Edition ships in late March ($499), it will be is a big step forward towards achieving parity with Microsoft Office 97 for Windows, but still won't be it's equal. While Word 98 and Excel 98, are for the most part up to par with the Windows versions, with a few features that aren't yet in Office 97, PowerPoint 98 for Mac lags behind the Windows version, and Microsoft Access is missing. There are also Office integration features that are missing from the new Macintosh version.

The beta version, which called the "Marketing Beta," ran smoothly without crashing.

This report is not meant to be a comprehensive product review of Office 98, but instead focuses on the cross-platform issues. The report is divided into two parts:

The good news: Macintosh/Windows integration features

File formats. Office 98 applications use the same file formats as Office 97 for Windows. This means Mac users can open and edit Office 97 Win files, and Windows users can open and edit Office 98 Mac files.Office 98 Macintosh includes translators that can read and/or write in a number of older Windows and Mac Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats.

Excel shared files. Mac Excel and Windows Excel users can simultaneously work on the same file over a network. Users can enter data, change formatting, and edit formulas at the same time.

Visual Basic for Applications. Mac users can now create Visual Basic macros in Word and Excel, and all three applications can run marcos created on Mac or Windows (including macro viruses, unfortunately). There is also now a Visual Basic development environment with a code editor.

QuickTime and QuickTime VR movies can be used in PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. However, Office 97 for Windows does not support QuickTime movies, which show up as unrecognizable pictures types in Windows.

Similar interface. The Mac version follows the Apple Platinum guidelines for the colors and shapes of windows, buttons, and other interface objects, but otherwise uses an interface very close to that in Office 97.

Outlook Express. This e-mail/newsgroup clients supports SMTP/POP3, IMAP4, NNTP, LDAP, and can view rich HTML messages. It can encode/decode files using Binhex, MIME, and UUENCODE, and supports multiple email accounts. Like Internet Explorer 4.0, which will also come with Office 98, Outlook Express supports the SOCKS proxy protocol, making it compatible with MS Proxy Server 2.0. However, Outlook Express does not have the collaborations features of the Windows version (see below.)

Non-English language versions.Support services, such as the dictionary, grammar checker, and thesaurus will be in the native language of all versions. It has been reported that some previous European versions of Office Mac had English proofing tools, while these tools in the Windows versions supported the native language.

Another problem points to a problem in moving Word files between Mac and Windows:

"While the file formats may be the same for MS Word 6 between the Macintosh and Windows, that is certainly not true for documents in the Central European character set. MS Word 6 assumes that the character set in use is the standard Western European character set and translates the characters accordingly--in other words it garbles the Central European characters with values above 127!"

Microsoft told MacWindows that it was too early to tell if this would be the case with Office 98 Macintosh Edition.

The bad news: The Mac version lags behind the Windows version

Microsoft Access is not part of this package. Microsoft says it has no plans to port the popular database to Mac. Mac users can view HTML versions of Access databases which Windows users have converted with the Publish to the Web Wizard.

Outlook Express is kind of an "Outlook Lite," in that it does not include the workgroup features of Outlook 97 for Windows, which comes with Office 97 for Windows. Mac users get only an an email/newsgroup client. Mac users cannot participate in the collaboration features of the Windows version, which acts as a client to the Microsoft Exchange Server, in addition to being a POP/SMTP client. Windows users have a calendar with which to schedule meetings, appointments, and events. Windows users also have a to-do list, a Notes section, and a Journal for tracking work history.

Microsoft does have an Outlook 97 for Macintosh added the calendar (basically, the features of the existing Exchange Mail and Schedule+ clients plus some new features, though it still doesn't have as many features as the Windows 95 version. The Outlook 97 for Macintosh client is included in Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5, which first shipped last fall. Sources have reported to MacWindows that Microsoft is working on an Outlook 98 for Macintosh, which would have the features of the Windows version.

PowerPoint 98 lacks many features of its Windows counterpart. This includes:

No ClarisWorks file format support. Office 98 Macintosh Edition can not read ClarisWorks files. Until DataViz delivers Office 98 translators for MacLink Plus, the only translation path would be to use MacLink Plus to translate to ClarisWorks files to older versions of Word and Excel, and then open with Office 98.

Office binders. Mac users won't be able to create or view Office binder files created by Windows users. However, Office 98 will provide a utility for breaking apart Binders created in Office 97 for Windows, enabling Mac users to access Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.

ActiveX controls are not supported, as they are in Office 97.

Office Viewers. Microsoft does not plan to deliver Word 98 or Excel 98 viewers for Macintosh. However, a PowerPoint 98 viewer will become available after Office 98 ships.

Open from an URL. Only Word 98 can be launched from an URL. All applications in Office 97 for Windows have this ability.

In-place editing of OLE objects. OLE objects are edited in separate windows, rather in place as in Office 97.

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