updated 8/2/2007 11:14:06 AM ET 2007-08-02T15:14:06

Microsoft Corp. will delay the release of Office 2008 for Apple Inc.'s Macintosh computers until the middle of January 2008, in order to fix lingering bugs in the software.

The software maker previously said the new suite, which is to include Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the Entourage e-mail program, would go on sale sometime in the second half of 2007.

"It really is just a quality issue across the board," Craig Eisler, general manager of Microsoft's Macintosh business unit, said in an interview Wednesday.

Eisler said Apple's decision to switch to Intel-based chips disrupted the software development process, as did Microsoft's move to a new file format with the release of Office 2007 for Windows-based computers.

Microsoft is now aiming to launch the software at the Macworld mega-conference for all things Apple in mid-January, and it will be widely available in the first quarter. Eisler did not say how much the suite will cost. Office 2004 for Macs costs between $150 and $500 on Apple's Web site, depending on the version.

(MSNBC.com is a Microsoft - NBC Universal joint venture.)

The setback pales in comparison to the delays that plagued Microsoft's newest operating system, Windows Vista, and the Office 2007 programs for Windows-based computers, which finally reached consumers in January of this year.

Windows PC users far outnumber Mac users, but Apple's market share is growing, and with them, U.S. retail sales of Office for Macintosh, according to the market data researchers NPD Group.

Sales of Office for Macs rose about 72 percent from 2001 to 2006, compared with an increase of about 18 percent for Windows versions. Sales of the Mac versions made up about 20 percent of dollars spent on Office at U.S. retail stores and Web sites in 2006, up from 4 percent in 2001.

"Even though Microsoft is losing that operating system sale, they're still keeping that Office sale," noted Chris Swenson, an NPD analyst.

Swenson said the low price tag on the version meant for student and home use, which makes up about 80 percent of Office copies shipped to retailers, makes buying the software "a no-brainer" for consumers.

"It's not a total loss, switching to the Mac," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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