Apple MacThe long war between Microsoft and Macintosh could be almost over, with Microsoft preparing to ship Office for Mac 2011, the release that ends the company's decade-long attack on Apple computers in business.

Office 2011, due before Christmas, replaces the much-despised Entourage email client and information manager with a real version of Microsoft Outlook created for Macintosh.

When that happens, Mac users become full participants on their companies' Exchange-based email systems. It's the end of the Mac as a second-class corporate citizen.

Entourage: an intentional barrier?

Microsoft could have done this previously, but used Entourage to create a barrier between Mac users and Exchange. Given the issue persisted for a decade, the incompatibility must be considered intentional.

This nonsense went on much too long and Microsoft still deserves criticism for pulling such a stunt in the first place - so no congratulations from me.

Entourage appeared in 2000, replacing the previous Outlook Express that shipped with Office 98. Asked why they didn't just offer a new Mac version of Outlook, Microsoft replied that Entourage was intended for a different audience.

That "new audience" being Mac users who didn't need to connect to Exchange, which left out a huge number of potential Windows-to-Mac converts over the decade.

Intentionally crippled as a client for Exchange servers, Entourage was a sure way of keeping Macs from expanding their presence in businesses large enough to use Exchange and Outlook. (Wikipedia does a good job of explaining this history.)

The incompatibilities diminished somewhat over the years.

Until 2003, Entourage could not connect to an Exchange server at all. Today, server-side rules are still not supported, nor is synchronisation of tasks and notes. Entourage also relies upon its own user interface, which is quite unlike Outlook.

Critically, Entourage cannot import Outlook post office (.PST) files created on a Windows machine, making it impossible to easily move a user's messages from Windows to Macintosh.

Solving problems with Office 2011

Office 2011, being discussed this week at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, deals with these issues, finally giving Macs status as first-class participants in companies using Exchange email.

If you'd like to learn more about Office 2011 - which looks quite nice and brings Mac users closer to the Windows Office experience - let me refer you to Dan Miller's story from Macworld.

"Nowadays, compatibility means more than just file formats," Microsoft's Kurt Schmucker told Miller. "It's also workflow, collaboration, and user interface."

Nowadays? Compatibility always meant workflow, collaboration, user interface, and feature set - another area where Office 2011 is described as more like a Windows version.

After a decade of crippling the Mac as a business computer, Microsoft is now embracing it. Or at least has decided there are enough Windows and Office users who also use Macs to make improved compatibility something now in Microsoft's best interest.

PC World