The business unit within Microsoft responsible for Mac apps (which Microsoft likes to call the MacBU) is as old as the Mac itself, and it’s never behaved like it had been fully assimilated into the Redmondian Borg. Office for the Mac has long been a distinctly different product from its Windows counterpart–sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. One of the most striking differences has been that Office for the Mac has never offered Outlook; instead, it includes Entourage, a sort-of-like-Outlook, sort-of-different application that got great reviews when it debuted but which has also suffered from iffy compatibility with Outlook and Exchange. It’s also faced increasing competition from within OS X itself, as Apple has beefed up its Mail and iCal apps (and moved to build compatibility with Microsoft’s Exchange server directly into Snow Leopard, the imminent OS X upgrade).
Today, Microsoft announced that it’s working on a new version of Office for the Mac for release by the holiday season of 2010–and that it will dump Entourage for the first version of Outlook for the Mac OS X [there was a previous version of Outlook I'd forgotten which never made it to OS X; this is the first modern one--thanks for correction in comments, Jeff] There was a time when the fact that Mac Office users got Entourage rather than Outlook was widely considered a pro, not a con, and I’m sure some Mac users won’t be happy with this development. But despite any remaining Entourage virtues, e-mail and calendaring are by definition functions which involve working with other people, and with so many Office for Mac users being small fish in large ponds inhabited mostly by Outlook users, consistency probably makes sense. (Although Microsoft said during today’s announcement that Outlook for the Mac will be distinctly different from the Windows edition; if it follows the pattern of other Mac Office apps, it’ll likely be a somewhat simpler program with fewer hardcore business tools.)
The news about the next version of Office for the Mac confirms that Microsoft isn’t planning to discontinue the suite out of lack of interest or desire to make trouble for Apple and Mac users–which isn’t really news, but which seems to be a persistent fear in the back of some Mac fans’ heads. (I’ve heard some worry that Microsoft intended to ditch Office for the Mac once it releases browser-based editions of the major Office apps next year.)
I’m still curious whether Office 2010 for Mac will include integration with the Office Web Apps, and whether it’ll adopt a full-blown version of Office for Windows’ Ribbon interface. (Office 2008 for Mac has a sort of halfway-there version of the Ribbon.) Microsoft didn’t say anything about these questions today. Me, I’d vote for a Mac Office that bore at least somewhat more resemblance to the Windows one, not just for consistency but because Office 2007′s interface is superior to that of Office 2008.
The company did announce some tweaks to the lineup of Office 2008 versions: On September 15th, it’s replacing the current standard edition of Office Mac with a new one called Office Mac 2008 Business Edition, which includes a version of Entourage with better Exchange connectivity; features to let Mac users work with SharePoint and Office Live Workspace services; and new business-oriented document templates. The Home and Student Edition is sticking around, but the Special Media Edition one that bundles its Expression Media graphics package is going away.