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Has the war between Suite Office for Mac OS X started?

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Apple and MicrosoftAt first there was the sudden, very harsh declaration by Mac Business with Microsoft, which complained about the poor sales of Office X (there is talk of 300,000 copies instead of the expected 750,000), and the threat not too veiled in Cupertino: either you commit to promoting better Mac OS X and Office vX or Office for Mac development will be closed.

Of course, there have been those who have read the theory of poor sales as an excuse: according to this hypothesis, the house of Gates would only have found an opportunity to disengage with elegance and leave Apple in difficulty. It could be, but also true that the sales of Office 98 continue to be better than Office X, and it is also true that OSX only 20% of the total installed Mac. In addition, the recent free update to Office X had attempted a coup against piracy, blocking a number of activation that used to circulate in illegal channels.

The externalization of Microsoft, in hindsight, did not come completely unexpected: there was talk for some time of the expiration of the famous five-year Apple-Microsoft agreement, stipulated after the return of Jobs, which basically guaranteed Office on Mac in exchange for the inclusion of Explorer as the default browser on Apple machines.Also, a version of Outlook on the Mac continued and continues not to be seen on the horizon, indispensable in environments that use Exchange as the mail server and version 6 of Explorer.

Meanwhile reports on the Redmond-Cupertino axis seem to have tightened due to the "Switch" advertising campaign, which explicitly focuses on the flaws of Windows, and iCal, iSync and an enhanced version of Mail have been presented at MacWorld, all tools that somehow they compete with MS Entourage.

Open OfficeShortly afterwards the news came that the development for Mac of OpenOffice, the open source Office suite derived from Sun StarOffice, has currently reached alpha status, although it is still in fact unusable, and due to frequent crashes and the need to use Xdarwin to make it work (not a small request for such an application).

The team that deals with OpenOffice on Mac always looks for programmers who want to help the cause, and this does not bode well for the speed of the happy ending of the story, but still better than what happened before, at the time of System 8 and 9, when the porting was downright unthinkable.

OpenOffice is one of the miraculous gifts that the choice of a Unix heart has brought to the Mac.

Star OfficeThen, this weekend, here is the news-bomb we have already told you about: Apple and Sun are cooperating to produce a "Java-based" version of OpenOffice for the end of the year, followed by a commercial version of StarOffice in 2003.

StarOffice already exists for Windows, Solaris and Linux; with Apple Sun he found the partner he was looking for in the hardware sector to give popularity to his suite, while Apple probably wanted a shelter in case Microsoft should implement his threat or even just support to have greater weight in the negotiations. panorama of the Office suites on Mac not exciting: Corel has abandoned WordPerfect for years, Apple continues to update its Works (from the cost of 79 dollars), which for a different category than the Microsoft giant (which costs about 500 dollars), both in features and in price, as well as ThinkFree ($ 49), a Java-based product.

At this point it will be interesting to understand in which price range Sun wants to place its StarOffice, which for a few years, immediately after the acquisition by Star Division, the German company that had developed it, had been released for free. The versions currently on the market StarOffice costs $ 75.95, but who knows, given the work done together by Sun and Apple, StarOffice cannot be sold bundled with Macs or can be used as a paid upgrade of AppleWorks.

What about MS Exchange?StarOffice leaves open a very important question we have already mentioned: a client for MS Exchange. As criticized, Exchange is perhaps the most used of the tools for the workgroup together with Lotus Notes, and in many companies that are not structured for the work of group however present as a simple mailserver.

The Unix nature of MacOS X could also meet this time: Ximian produces an open source Outlook clone for Solars and various Linux (including Yellow Dog, the most used distribution on PowerMacs), called Evolution, and the plug-in Connector owner at the cost of 69 dollars, capable of making Evolution communicate with all the Exchange tools, and that Ximian cannot see a new business opportunity in the persistent lack of Outlook on Mac?

The importance of the SuiteBut why an Office suite so strategically important for Apple? The widespread use of the Mac in professional environments due to programs of a completely different nature, all or almost all related to the field of image processing, pagination and printing, which theoretically they should be of little interest to a possible flat rate for Office X. The reality is very different: anyone who works in contact with the public or has even occasional "digital" relationships with customers or suppliers knows very well what the de facto standards for sending documents are. text, price lists and various announcements: these are the notorious .doc and .xls files, and not being able to read them automatically puts them out of the workflow. It is true that AppleWorks is able to read and record files. of this type in the latest versions but the question that the less savvy consumer asks those who sell computers with apples is: do Word and Excel exist for Mac?

Then remains the segment of the consumer market, which Apple seems to be aiming for at the moment with accessories such as the iPod and the β€œSwitch” campaign; for this kind of people the impossibility of using an Excel sheet for home accounting drawn up by the relative "who knows" or not being able to save the search for children in Word format so that they can then read it on the school pc would be a disaster.

It matters little that 80% of the documents that nowadays circulate in one of the Office formats could easily have been created with the functionality of any application costing a quarter of that of the Microsoft suite: Office by now omnipresent and with it it is necessary to do the accounts; the same "Switch" has one of its strengths in the possibility of having Office on Mac.

We must not forget the "legacy" situation: the various Word and Excel have been around for many years now, no other office application has a comparable history; therefore there are people who have unimaginable quantities of documents saved in one of their various versions, and the only way to be able to view them correctly is to use one of the components of the Office package. The correct display of complex documents and the maintenance of macros and formulas one of the aspects in which the various alternative offices often leave something to be desired: as long as it is a question of opening a page of text, more or less no one has problems, but when it comes to tackling a thesis or a spreadsheet full of "if" , vertical searches etc. the pains begin.

For this reason, we believe that Apple will not want to force Microsoft's hand too much: the possibility of an alternative, perhaps even an economic alternative to Office, is a good thing, but from here to stumble up to repudiate the suite of Gates there runs, if only that to avoid compatibility problems that could occur at the next format change decided by Microsoft, or for the "marketability" of being able to boast a native version of Office, a unique prerogative of Windows and Mac.

What do you think: Apple should get rid of Microsoft once and for all, pushing StarOffice as a productivity suite and maybe developing an iBrowser to replace Explorer, or try to keep Gates at bay so as to preserve the development of an important product like Office X ?

We have an open channel in our forum to discuss it …. (By Marco Centofanti)