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Apple will step on yet another of Microsoft’s toes early next year when the Mac maker unveils the next version of its iWork productivity suite, complete with a new spreadsheet application.

Sources report that iWork ’07 will gain this new third component, code-named Lasso, which will go to bat against Microsoft Excel in the consumer and small-office space.

The new application will arrive in addition to the upgraded Pages 3 and Keynote 4 programs, Apple’s current answers to Word and PowerPoint.

While Lasso will lack the depth of Excel, Apple expects the software to strike a chord with the many spreadsheet users who don’t require extremely specialized functionality.

Click here to read more about Apple’s iWork desktop productivity suite.

Nonetheless, customers can count on Lasso to be far more robust than Apple’s last stab at spreadsheets, a component of the company’s all-in-one AppleWorks productivity suite that last saw a major release in 2000 and has long since been discontinued.

Lasso will support importing of both Excel and AppleWorks documents, sources say, and will also be able to save spreadsheets in Excel format.

Lasso’s function editor will sport more than 200 hundred functions that will span a number of needs, from financial to statistical and possibly niche applications such as engineering, sources say.

Lasso will also feature limited integration with the Internet, making it easy, for example, for users to create a spreadsheet that automatically downloads and inputs updated stock market information at a specified interval.

Wrapping such functionality in an attractive, straightforward interface will be Lasso’s strong suit, bringing practical, advanced capabilities to the masses.

Read the full story on OpenApple: Apple Takes on Office, Gently

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