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Microsoft expands Mac Office line with x86 emulator

Cuts prices too

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Microsoft has re-released the Mac OS X version of Office and its component applications, cutting prices and throwing in a copy of VirtualPC x86 CPU emulation software into the bargain.

Office v.X, as the Mac release is styled, now comes in four varieties: Standard, Professional, Student and Teacher. The last two will both retail for £120 in the UK ($149 in the US) and are aimed at the education market, as their names suggest.

Curiously, US reports suggest Microsoft isn't seeking a formal statement that the buyer is either a student or an education professional, so it's hard to see why anyone will splash out for the £369/$399 Standard edition, even if it is £60 cheaper than it was last week.

The Professional edition, like Student and Teacher, is a new addition to the Office family. The £470/$499 package bundles Virtual PC 6.1 and a copy of Windows XP Pro to go with it.

Microsoft acquired Virtual PC from its developer, Connectix, earlier this year. Essentially, Microsoft wanted the technology, which it's using to develop virtual server solutions. Its Mac Business Unit will continue to develop the client versions, which Connectix will sell on its behalf.

The MBU is currently working on the next major release of Mac Office, presumably derived from Office 2003, which is due to ship for Windows in September or October. Work on Office goes on despite the end of the five-year agreement Apple struck with Microsoft in 1998. The end of that deal recently resulted in the MBU's decision not to continue updating Internet Explorer.

Since Microsoft was committed to giving IE away for free, and the MBU is a commercial operation, that decision makes sense, particularly since Apple launched a free browser of its own. Safari may not be as compatible with as many web sites as IE, but there's no doubt it's a better app.

Apple is also be said to be preparing productivity applications to match those in Office. It has already shipped Keynote, a presentation tool, and since it did, Microsoft seems to have renewed its interest in Office, having previously complained about v.X's poor reception. Version v.X was always going to fare less well than previous releases, since it targeted Mac OS X exclusively at a time when many Office users had yet to migrate from Mac OS 9. With that migration process now running more smoothly, largely thanks to Mac OS X 10.2, Office v.X sales have presumably picked up and, according to Microsoft, has met its sales expectations.

Past upgrades to the Office v.X have centred on security and bux fixes. However, its email component, Entourage, was recently updated to provide connectivity with Microsoft Exchange servers. The new version of Entourage and the other Office apps, all at version 10.1.4, will be included in the new releases.

All the new versions will be available in the UK early next month. They will be released in the US on 18 August. ®

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