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Microsoft to announce new versions of Office, Virtual PC at Macworld

If Apple Computer, Inc. plans to enter the office suite market with its own set of integrated business applications and rumored 'Document' word processor, they are going to have to wait until the latter half of 2004 to do so. The first half of the year will belong to Redmond-based friend and foe, Microsoft, which will officially renew its commitment to the Macintosh platform on January 6th with the introduction of new versions of Microsoft Office and Virtual PC for the Macintosh.

Microsoft Office 2004 for the Macintosh — currently in development under the moniker 'Office 11 for Mac' — is just one of four new Mac OS X native products under construction by Microsoft's Mac Business unit, sources close to the company said. The office suite will center around a new project management system, which will closely integrate its individual applications to provide a revolutionary means of organization. Users working on a joint project in both Word and PowerPoint will be able to link documents from the two applications through the Office project manager, which also extends to e-mail messages related to the project.

Speaking of e-mail, the success of Apple's Mail application has done little to damper Microsoft's hopes of continuing to deploy a competitive E-mail client on the Mac OS X platform. According to sources, the Entourage component of Office 2004 will see some of the heftiest revisions, including greatly improved junk mail filtering and support for project-based message organization.

The office suite will include updates to all of its component applications and is rumored to feature a broad form of Unicode support across the board. As with the previous version of Office for the Mac, version 2004 will also boast several Macintosh only features due to its development cycle, which is independent from its Windows counterpart.

Microsoft is expected to announce the software during Steve Jobs' annual Macworld San Francisco keynote address next month, though the suite is not expected to ship until later in the Spring of 2004.

Meanwhile, folks who prefer to run the Windows version of Office 2003 on their Macs will rejoice at word of a new version of the company's Virtual PC application, which is set the hit the streets around the same time. Virtual PC 7.0, also due for an announcement at January's expo, will finally deliver optimized performance for Apple's PowerPC G5 processor, sources said. In addition, the emulation software will provide improved support of the Windows operating system and Windows-based applications.

Microsoft acquired Virtual PC for the Mac, along with Virtual PC for Windows and Virtual Server, from Connectix Corp. back in February of this year. The company has since begun a rather large Virtual PC 6.1 web-based advertisement campaign as a sign of commitment to the Macintosh product. However, sources claim that Microsoft's acquisition of Connectix's Virtual product-line may have been fueled with the intentions of emulating technologies beyond the Macintosh operating system.

In addition to new versions of Office and Virtual PC, Microsoft is amidst the development of two additional applications for Mac OS X to be deployed free of charge. Both MSN Messenger 4.0 and Remote Desktop Connection Client 2 for Mac should make their way to market in the first half of 2004, sources said. Specific details of the two applications are currently unavailable.

Microsoft recently upgraded their presence at Macworld Expo San Francisco, claiming the second largest exhibition booth behind Apple's.