By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 3, 2008

The finished program won’t reach store shelves until after it’s officially unveiled at Apple’s (AAPL) Macworld Expo this month, but the first reviews of Microsoft’s (MSFT) Office 2008 for Mac have landed, and so far they are positive.

The longest and most detailed comes from Wilson Rothman at Gizmodo, who has been playing with a beta version for several weeks and reports that “it’s a smooth ride.” (link)

The briefest comes from Jupiter Research’s Michael Gartenberg, who says “Microsoft got a lot correct in this release and if you use a Macintosh, especially in a corp. environment with Exchange, this is a must-get upgrade.” (link)

The most simplistic review is Walt Mossberg’s at the Wall Street Journal, whose video report is delivered in the tone and pace used by pre-K teachers to speak to five-year-olds (video link). “In my tests, I ran into a few minor glitches,” Walt writes in today’s Journal. “But, generally, the program worked well. (print link)

What you need to know is that this is the first version of Office written for Intel-based Macs (so it’s considerably zippier than the aging and increasingly sluggish Office 2004), and it supports the file types introduced in Office 2007 for Windows.

It comes in several flavors, starting with a $150 Home and Student edition that includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Entourage. The $400 standard edition throws in Automator and Microsoft Server Exchange support. The top-of-the-line $500 Special Edition includes Microsoft Expression Media, formerly iView, for managing a wide variety of media types.

Minimum hardware requirements are a Mac with 1.5GB free on the hard drive running at least OS 10.4.9, with 512MB of RAM and a 500MHz Intel or PowerPC processor.

The biggest drawback to emerge is that unlike earlier versions of Office, this one doesn’t support Visual Basic, the language in which most Excel macros are written. This is likely to dismay business power users.

UPDATE: More reviews have started to roll in. Among them:

And finally, most comprehensively,

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