Office 2010: Did Microsoft get it right? (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty May 13, 2010, 4:53 GMT
Washington - Will Office 2010 rescue Microsoft's ubiquitous productivity suite in the same way that Windows 7 resuscitated the reputation of Windows?
That's the billion-dollar question. And this week, with the official unveiling of Office 2010, answers begin to emerge.
Boasting a host of collaborative features, interface improvements, and seamless integration with the new, free Office 2010 Web Apps, Office 2010 is Microsoft's best attempt to redress the complaints that users had about Office 2007 while not throwing out the 2007 experiment entirely.
At the same time, with Office 2010 Microsoft attempts to fend off the advances of Google with its free, web-based Google Docs - viewed by some as a legitimate threat to the desktop-based application model. There's no doubt that the challenges for Office 2010 were great. Here is an overview of the result.
With Office 2010, Microsoft hopes to lure back lucrative corporate customers, who largely took a pass on Office 2007, with enhancements that take collaboration and mobility to a new level. Word, PowerPoint, and Excel now allow co-authoring a document in real-time, for instance.
Rather than being locked out of a document when it's open on someone else's computer, you'll see a tiny 'toast' icon in the status bar, indicating that the document is being worked on, and a pop-up will tell you who else is reviewing the document. Gone are lockouts and confusing 'merge' messages resulting from others having edited a document you need to update.
To get this level of collaboration, though, you'll have to employ one of two technologies: SharePoint 2010, which Microsoft released concurrently this week with Office 2010, or SkyDrive (http://skydrive.live.com), the free online storage space offered on Windows Live, Microsoft's set of online services and applications that's largely aimed at individuals.
Many companies that have deployed Office have adopted SharePoint, the document storage and management tool, so Microsoft hopes to capitalize on the collaboration enhancements offered in Office 2010 by prompting an upgrade of both Office and SharePoint.
The good news for businesses that take the bait is that SharePoint 2010 has plenty to offer in addition to support for real-time collaboration.
Among the headline features are the ability to take SharePoint content offline; personal user profiles that mimic what can be done on popular social-networking sites; social bookmarking, which provides a way for network users to rate content; people search; and access to the new FAST search service for SharePoint, which provides advanced filtering options for searches.
Microsoft spent considerable time polishing the look and feel of Office 2010 apps, as well.
The 'ribbon bar' - Office 2007's most controversial feature - has been revamped in response to user complaints. In Office 2007, the ribbon bar did away with conventional menus in favour of a tabbed, context-specific top row that grouped functions that you were likely to need or want. The idea was to unearth the many features of Office applications that many never found because those features were buried deep within menus or dialog boxes.
Menu addicts will be disappointed to hear that the ribbon bar is not gone in Office 2010, but it has been enhanced. You now have the ability to customize the ribbon bar by adding the tabs that you think should appear, and you can add or remove functions or features within tabs. There's still no option to bring back classic menus, but the improvements will be welcome to those who don't mind the change.
The round Office button that appeared on ribbon-enabled applications in Office 2007 has been replaced by a tab labeled File at the far left of the ribbon bar. Click it, and you'll see a new feature that Microsoft calls Backstage View.
Occupying the entire application window, Backstage View gathers together all of the operations you're likely to need when readying a file for distribution, including 'checking for issues' (spelling and grammar checking), establishing read and write permissions, turning on change tracking, and previewing how the file will appear when it's printed. The traditional Save, Save As, Share, and other file-related activities are also included. Clicking the File tab again takes you back to the open document.
Paste Preview is another suite-wide enhancement that attempts to address Microsoft's finding that many people undo a paste operation once they see how the text or object actually looks in the document. As its name implies, Paste Preview gives you a preliminary look at how something pasted from the clipboard will appear.
To use Paste Preview, you'll first right-click and let your mouse hover over the Paste Preview options, seeing in real-time how the material will look.
Many people spend their entire day in Outlook, office's e-mail program - or at least have it open the entire time. For them, Microsoft has managed to introduce fairly dramatic changes to Outlook 2010 without making the changes a drag on productivity. Most of the essential features remain intact and are located where you'd expect them.
The many interface enhancements focus on making Outlook feel lighter weight and more responsive while adding a level of customizability that was never present in Outlook before.
It's easy, for example, to hide the ribbon bar, folders, and other interface elements of Outlook 2010, retaining just the message list and preview pane. Bringing back interface elements you've hidden is simple, too, by clicking an unobtrusive left or right arrow icon along the top edges.
Of more interest, though, is a new 'conversation view,' which aggregates and tracks multiple messages belonging to one conversation. A conversation cleanup feature can pare down a conversation involving many e-mail participants to just those involving selected people. It's easy, too, to ignore or remove a conversation altogether with context-sensitive options that appear when you right-click a conversation thread.
TAKE TO THE WEB
You don't have to stay tied to one computer to work with Office 2010 documents, thanks to the still-in-beta Office Web Apps (http://bit.ly/6JKlAh). These online versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel will be free to Windows Live members - a direct result, no doubt, of the competition offered from Google Docs.
Not as robust as the desktop-based versions, Web Apps will nevertheless allow Office 2010 owners to work, store documents, and collaborate directly online. Owners of Office 2010, in fact, won't even have to sign up for Web Apps - they'll just choose Save to Web from any Office 2010 app, visit SkyDrive, and follow the instructions to get started.
Others can start using Office Web Apps beginning June 15, the official launch date.
So is Office 2010 a suite you'll feel compelled to run out and buy? Certainly, if you're still happily producing documents with Office 2003 or 2007, you can stay put without penalty.
But for those who want or need to be on the vanguard of computing, there's little doubt that Office 2010 is more than a routine upgrade to the world's most popular productivity suite.
Office 2010 spearheads the roll-out of a suite of technologies - desktop-based, server-based, and web-based - which, taken together, provide a compelling bridge from the static computing environments of yesterday to the amorphous workplaces of tomorrow. And it's a bridge that, sooner or later, most will want to cross.