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Microsoft moves Macs closer to PC parity

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Macworld Expo Microsoft has announced two products designed to provide users of Office 2008 for Mac with improved access to existing server-based Microsoft services.

The first of the two, Microsoft Entourage for Exchange Web Services, will be a free upgrade to Entourage 2008 for Mac that will enable that email, contacts, and calendaring client to more fully benefit from the Exchange Web Services built into Exchange Server 2007.

The second, Microsoft Document Collaboration Companion for Mac, will be a free Cocoa-based companion app to Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac that's designed to improve document-management control for Mac users of Microsoft's SharePoint Server document-sharing technology. The app will work whether document sharing is provided by enterprise SharePoint Servers, third-party leased or subscription-based SharePoint services, or Microsoft's free (for now, at least) consumer and small-business oriented Office Live Workspace.

Both products were announced at Macworld Expo, but we were given a preview by Amanda Lefebvre, Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) senior marketing manager, and Mike Tedesco, MacBU senior product manager.

As befits a marketing manager, Lefebvre talked of the the product pair's "mission", which she defined as "connecting Mac users to productivity no matter where it is - whether it's on the desktop or whether it's in the cloud or on the web."

And as befits a product manager, Tedesco spoke more in terms of nuts and bolts. Here are some of the details he provided about the two new Microsoft offerings.

Entourage for Exchange Web Services

Simply put, Entourage for Exchange Web Services - or, as MacBU's general manager, Eric Wilfrid, more succinctly refers to it, Entourage EWS - is an extension of the server-side processing benefits provided by Exchange Server 2007 (SP1 or later) to Entourage 2008 for Mac.

And, to hear Tedesco talk about them, the benefits are extensive.

Currently, the Entourage/Exchange relationship is based on WebDAV, which - according to Tedesco - requires that the majority of the management of the communication between Entourage and Exchange is performed on the client side, which "owns all the logic".

Currently, "anything that happens - whether you're sending an email or accepting a meeting request, whatever the case may be, all that work is happening on the client".

Not good.

Such client-side processing makes troubleshooting tough, seeing as how admins must face an army of clients deploying an array of different devices from Macs to iPhones - tracking down an offender is no easy feat. With Entourage EWS, says Tedesco, "If there's an issue, I have one place to look for it". That one place being the server, since that's where the bulk of the Exchange processing will take place under Entourage EWS.

Client-side processing wreaks havoc on network traffic, too, according to Tedesco. "With WebDAV, if I accept a meeting request... it's six network calls to the server - with the Exchange Web Services it's one." Because the bulk of the Exchange access and management duties will be switched from the client to the server in Entourage EWS, "we'll have to do very minimal work to get an item on the server, and the server handles the rest".

Easier troubleshooting, less network traffic - all good stuff. If everything works as advertised, Entourage EWS could relieve a few IT headaches when it's released later this year. Currently it's in private beta, being pounded on by "20 enterprise-level customers" from the education, public, and private sectors. A public beta will be released later this month.

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