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Microsoft delays Office 2008 for Mac until mid-January

Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (Mac BU) said Thursday that the release of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac has been pushed back from the second half of 2007 until mid-January.

The Redmond-based firm now anticipates showing a final version of the software at the Macworld trade show and conference in January, with global availability to commence in the first quarter of 2008.

"This was a business decision based on the Mac BU’s commitment to deliver a high-quality product,” said Mac BU General Manager Craig Eisler. "Our number one priority is to deliver quality software to our customers and partners, and in order to achieve this we are shifting availability."

As part of the revised schedule, Eisler said the Mac BU is driving towards an internal goal of releasing a gold master copy of the software suite to manufacturing in mid-December. He added that, "customers will be very pleased with the finished product.”

Known for lengthy software delays, Microsoft had said as recently as June that the new version of Office remained on track for a release during the second half of 2007. Its decision to push out the release comes amid a rise in Apple's Mac market share and growing retail demand for Office for Mac.

Despite having released just two versions of the productivity suite since 2000, the Associated Press reports that Microsoft has seen sales of Office for Mac rise about 72 percent from 2001 to 2006, compared with an increase of about 18 percent for Windows versions.

The AP, citing NPD market research data, added that sales of the Mac versions made up about 20 percent of dollars spent on Office at U.S. retail stores and Web sites in 2006, up from 4 percent in 2001.

One of the highlights of Office for Mac 2008 (screenshots) is a new user interface for Word dubbed "Elements Gallery," which speeds up document creation by allowing users to drag-and-drop predefined templates for some of the most commonly used "Document Parts," such as headers, footers and tables of contents.

Office: Mac 2008

Microsoft Word, shipping in early 2008 as part of Office for Mac 2008

Another featured, called "My Day," is essentially a stand-alone widget application that allows users to track priorities and stay on top of daily activities no matter what Office application they happen to be working in at the time. It interfaces directly with Entourage —another component of Office —offering at-a-glance schedule and task viewing without having to launch Entourage.

Meanwhile, a new version of Excel will gain support for "Ledger Sheets," which will allow the spreadsheet application to handle common financial management tasks such as balancing checkbooks, tracking accounts or managing investment portfolios."

The Mac BU has promised to share more details about features and precise release timing as Office for Mac 2008 moves closer to launch.