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When Microsoft releases its next version of Office for Mac late next year, it will include a capability that will finally bring it into parity with its Windows counterpart: Outlook for Mac.

This new application will not be merely an "Outlookized" version of Office for Mac 2008's Entourage - Outlook's weaker sister - but be fully new app, written from the ground up in Cocoa, Mac OS X's collection of frameworks, APIs, and runtimes.

Speaking to reporters today from his offices in Redmond, Eric Wilfred, general manager of Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU), also said that the new Outlook for Mac will have a new database. "We are refreshing not just the front end, but the guts of the application," Wilfred said.

"A new database gives us increased reliability, better performance, and better integration with technologies like Time Machine for backup and Spotlight for search," he promised.

According to Wilfred, "Outlook for Mac and Outlook for Windows will be different, for sure, and they will be compatible, for sure."

As part of this effort, Outlook for Mac will incorporate Microsoft's implementation of Information Rights Management (IRM) as implemented in Office 2007 for Windows for cross-platform sharing of confidential materials.

Wilfred said that the one of the goals of the Outlook for Mac development efforts was to ensure that the Windows and Mac version "work great together, and work great in an Exchange environment the way that our business customers expect."

Interestingly, Apple has also promised Exchange support in its upcoming Snow Leopard revision of Mac OS X. When asked about how Outlook and Mac and Snow Leopard will compare in Exchange support, Wilfred only said that "[Apple] has not yet shared any features of Snow Leopard Exchange support, and Snow Leopard is not available, so I can't really address that question in detail yet."

Apparently, Apple's largest developers - such as Microsoft - are under as tight secrecy rules as are the small fry.

Wilfred declined to give any further information about the next version of Office for Mac other than the addition of Outlook, except to reiterated that, yes, it will bring back Visual Basic, which many felt should never have been removed from Office For Mac 2008.

In related news, Wildfred also announced that, come September 15th, the current three-box line of Office for Mac will be reduced to two boxes: Office 2008 for Mac Home and Student Edition ($149.95) and Office 2008 for Mac Business Edition ($399.95, $239.95 upgrade).

The new Business edition will include Entourage 2008 for Mac, Web Services Edition (available as a free download today for Office 2008 users), plus a boatload of new templates and clip art. The Web Services Edition, Wilfred claims, has improved performance, and better support for the latest verison of Exchange server.

Also to be added in the new Business Edition will be Document Connection for Mac, which is designed to improve access to and browsing of documents on Microsoft's SharePoint and Office Live Workspace.

Finally, the Business Edition will include seven hours of Office training on lynda.com. ®

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