Updated 2:45 p.m. ETIt's been nearly four years since Microsoft ( MSFT) released an update to its Office software business suite for Macintosh computers. That's nearly two or three lifetimes for computer programs.
So today, at the top of his keynote speech at the 2008 Macworld conference, in California, Apple guru Steve Jobs introduced Microsoft's Office 2008 for Mac. Actually, that is its official full name -- but on the box it's called Office:mac 2008.
It's the first rewrite of the ubiquitous business software since Office:mac 2004. In that time, Apple ( AAPL) switched its hardware to use Intel processors (two years ago), and the older version of Office instantly became somewhat long in the tooth.
That was especially true when it came to the programs' operating speed. The old Mac Office ran painfully slowly on all of the new Macs.
Not anymore. After a short time with the 2008 version, I've determined that slow speeds are no longer the issue. This software blazes on both older Power PC and modern Intel-based Macs. Looking back at software history, Mac Office software had always been years ahead of the Windows version when it came to features and overall design. Recently, because of territorial squabbles and numerous acts of corporate bravado, new versions of Mac Office have been delayed, and many new features debuted in the latest Windows Office 2007 suite. Until now. In most ways Office:mac 2008 looks and acts like its 2004 cousin. There are updated versions of Microsoft Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheets), PowerPoint (presentations) and Entourage (instead of Outlook -- for e-mail and calendars). Thankfully, Microsoft has kept the famous Office pull-down menus at the top of each page -- instead of having to deal with the new Win Office 2007 "Ribbon" feature, which was confusing and an absolute pain to set up. The Office:mac 2008 programs have a new feature called the Elements Gallery that lets you add some of the document layout features included with the upgraded software package. It makes it easy to add preconstructed pages and forms in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Overall, the new software suite installed quickly and easily and ran well in my tests. (That's always a good sign for a brand-new Microsoft software package.) If you're familiar with older versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, you shouldn't have any problems adjusting to this new software. Office:mac 2008 uses Microsoft's new 4-letter extensions for documents (such as .docx for a Word document). But, you can choose to save to the familiar 3-letter .doc extension. That could be especially helpful if you work for a company still using an ancient version of Office that rejects all files with the new extensions. (I hope you never have to experience this for yourself!) Office 2008 for Mac carries a retail price of $400 for the standard edition or $240 to upgrade your older version. A deluxe "Special Media Edition," which contains Microsoft Expression -- a suite of professional design tools, sells for $500 ($300 as an upgrade). There's also a well-priced "Home and Student Edition," which retails for $150 and contains the new Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage (in this case, lacking the software to support Microsoft Exchange e-mail servers).