Microsoft Corp.’s updated Office suite for Mac users is now available in Canadian retail stores.

At a reviewer’s workshop Wednesday, Scott Erickson, lead product manager of Microsoft’s Macintosh business unit in Redmond, Wash., said the company introduced Office v. X for Mac in response to Mac users’ needs. “Mac customers are different . . . design and form factor are important to them,” he said.

Office v. X, which contains revamped versions of Word, Excel, Entourage and PowerPoint, takes advantage of Mac OS X’s new built-in technologies: Aqua, Sheets and Quartz, he said.

Aqua, OS X’s new interface, is responsible for that “gel cap or Jolly Rancher look” – from the luminous and semi-transparent buttons, scroll bars and windows, to the fluid animation that occurs, for example, when users minimize files, said Erickson.

In Office v. X, the components of the user interface, including dialogue boxes and toolbar icons, were “Aquafied,” he said. The text within the components was also anti-aliased and the icons slightly enlarged in response to requests from users who sometimes had trouble finding what they were looking for. “We changed over 700 dialogue boxes in Office v. X,” he said. “Since it’s native to the platform, we wanted it to carry a consistent look and feel.”

Sheets are a new way of displaying dialogue boxes in Office v. X. If, for example, a user is working on multiple documents and wants to save one of them, a save sheet will pop up. But it won’t force the user to save the document before switching over to work on other files, said Willi Powell, strategic development manager of Markham, Ont.-based Apple Canada. “You can continue to type while the save sheet is up there,” he said, adding that the sheet feature is something Apple has asked all of its third-party software developers to add to their future releases.

According to Erickson, Office v. X’s Quartz drawing technology enables users to add anti-aliased lines and shapes to give documents a smoother and more finished appearance. It also gives users the opportunity to add transparency to graphics, layering objects and pictures to reveal items behind them. In PowerPoint, for example, users can create slides that transition from text to graphics, or 3D area charts with transparent layers.

“We have this joke . . . that there must be people out there who use 3D area charts to hide their results,” said Erickson. “Now we’ve ruined it for them.” He added that this is the first time 3D transparency layering capabilities have been made available to Office users. “Before, you couldn’t do this outside of Photoshop.” In addition, only Mac users can create layered transparency files in Office, although PC users will at least be able to open them.

Entourage, Mac OS X’s e-mail and personal information management program, offers a refined, easier-to-user interface, improved support for Internet standards and several new features to help users manage data. And a drop shadow feature is now available in Excel, making it easier for users to see where they are on the chart.

The upgrade version for Office v. X has an estimated retail price of $469; the standard version costs $759.

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