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Microsoft ships Office 2021 preview for Mac

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Microsoft has made a couple of important announcements for Mac and iOS-using enterprises, including moves toward a new “perpetual” version of Office and improvements to its popular Teams collaboration app.

Why it matters: Anything Microsoft does with its productivity suite has a consequence for enterprise professionals, even those using Macs, iPads, and iPhones. After all, 650,000 US companies have standardized around Office, and Microsoft has more than 258 million monthly Office 365/Microsoft 365 users, including plenty who use the suite on Apple’s products. Boosted by COVID-19 and the shift to remote work, the company in October told us that its collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams, now sees 115 million daily active users.

So, what’s new in Office?

Not every consumer or enterprise wants, needs, or can make use of the company’s subscription-based Microsoft 365, but the company wants to retain those customers, so it typically offers what it calls a “perpetual” version of the suite that doesn’t require a subscription and doesn’t receive feature updates.

With this in mind, Microsoft in February told us it would introduce a “pay once, use for five years” version of Office to replace Office 2019. Both Mac and Windows versions of Office 2021 will be made.

Microsoft also confirmed a business-focused product, Office LTSC, which is basically the same thing, but aimed at enterprises who keep systems offline.

“The next perpetual version of Office for commercial customers is built specifically for organizations running regulated devices that cannot accept feature updates for years at a time, process control devices that are not connected to the internet in manufacturing facilities, and specialty systems that must stay locked in time and require a long-term servicing channel,” the company said when it announced its plans.

Both Office LTSC and Office 2021 for Mac have now been made available to enterprises in Microsoft’s official preview channel, which suggests that the products should be made available in the coming weeks. Office 2021 Standard for Mac (Preview) includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, OneDrive, and Teams. The preview will be updated approximately once a month during the preview period and works natively on both Apple Silicon and Intel Macs. Enterprises can trial Office 2021 for Mac here.

The company hasn’t yet told us when it intends to launch Office 2021 for Mac.

So, what’s new in Teams?

Microsoft has also updated Teams for iOS (with some Android improvements). For iOS users, the most important change is the introduction of new ways to manage conversation streams. iPhone and iPad users will be able to view, pin, and manage pinned chats.

The update also introduces new emojis and catches up with Zoom by adding the ability to change the background in calls and meetings. Another new feature lets iPhone and iPad users invite distribution lists and groups when scheduling a meeting.

What else is new?

One recent Microsoft move may not at first seem Apple-focused. The latest Windows 10 build for Insiders lets Windows users run Linux applications natively thanks to the first preview of GUI app support on the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

Now, this isn’t especially interesting to Mac users, except, of course, when you consider the continued speculation concerning Microsoft’s plans around Windows for ARM.

The reason I think the prognosis seems positive is because Microsoft’s Linux GUI support represents the extent to which the company’s PC strategy has changed. It doesn’t want to be the OS for every computer but does want to provide software, services and infrastructure within every ecosystem. Within this context, it makes sense for it to make Windows for ARM available to Mac users running Parallels. It might also make sense to Windows users, given that M1 Macs run the OS faster than most PCs.

Of course, Microsoft may have other plans to make its OS available as a cloud-based client system, but its Office plans show it recognizes that not every user wants to be exposed online. Indeed, a recent Microsoft article concerning hybrid workforces stresses the need for flexibility.

Apple is rapidly increasing its share of the enterprise market. Its recently announced spring products will appeal to millions of remote workers, so it makes sense to anticipate that Microsoft will want to come along for the ride. One year since we learned Apple planned to migrate Macs to Apple Silicon, might the official introduction of Windows on ARM be one of the highlights for announcement at WWDC 2021?

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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