Apple resellers see Microsoft Corp.’s upcoming version of Office 2004 for Macintosh users as an opportunity to boost their hardware and licensing sales.

The software company released the latest version of the suite today to manufacturers in North America for production. The product will

not be available until late next month, according to a Microsoft Canada spokesperson.

“”Any major release like this we look forward to,”” said Victor Salus, store manager of Toronto-based dealer North Star Computer Ltd. “”It drives new business in terms of upgrades and people who have held off buying Office because they’ve been waiting for this new version to come out.””

System requirements for Office 2004 are a G3 or higher on the hardware side and Mac OS X version 10.2 or higher for the operating system.

Salus expects some business to come from first-time Mac users as well.

“”People who are not Mac users might have their interest piqued by the new version of Office for Mac. They might come in and it might drive new business for us in general.””

Philip Taylor, owner of Mainly Mac in Markham, Ont. said like Office v. X, which launched in 2001, the new version isn’t network compatible.

“”There will be more opportunities for licensing because previously, people would buy one copy per office. Now they need one copy per work station or a license equivalent.””

Customers who require five or more copies can purchase software through Microsoft’s Volume Licensing Program. Benefits of the program include cost savings, ease of deployment and Software Assurance, which allows customers to make annual payments versus payment up front in one lump sum.

Developed especially for Mac users, the suite is equipped with new features that aren’t available on the PC version.

Project Center, for example, allows users to track items related to a project they are working on and to keep co-workers up to date on that specific project, said Sue Borden, marketing manager for home productivity and Mac at Microsoft Canada’s home and entertainment division.

Another feature is the notebook layout view, which allows users to record audio in a Word document.

“”Mac users get really excited because some of the stuff that we include in the Office version are first time on the Mac platform,”” said Borden. “”Some things you can’t find in the Windows version.””

Microsoft has 160 employees who test Mac products at the Macintosh Business Unit business unit, which is located at company headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

“”We’re totally devoted to Mac users. We’ve done our own rigorous testing,”” said Borden.

Roger Kay, director of client computing at International Data Corp.’s Framingham, Mass. office, said the release “”re-demonstrates”” Microsoft’s commitment to the Mac platform. Kay, like Salus, expects users to upgrade software and hardware “”all at once.””

But in terms of number of users who will migrate to the new release, Kay says it will be “”here and there.””

“”It’s not like everyone’s waiting for the next release or something. It will depend more on people buying new systems than buying something off the shelf.””

Estimated retail package prices for the standard edition are $599 (full version) and $429 (upgrade) and $729 and $479 for the professional edition. The union/teacher edition is priced at $209.

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