Office 2010: Most Innovations Are Online

It has taken Microsoft a long time to bring its flagship Office suite to the Web and now it finally has with Office 2010. The software suite comes packed with meaningful improvements such as new cut-and-paste features for Word and new ways to broadcast your PowerPoint presentations online. But the most striking addition to Office 2010 is the introduction of Office Web Apps. These are lightweight versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote that are all accessible via desktop, mobile devices, and Web browsers Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.

Office 2010: Most Innovations are Online
Microsoft released a technical preview of Office 2010 to developers Monday giving the public a first official glimpse at the software giant's flagship Office software. We've been playing around with Office 2010 for a few weeks now. Our thoughts on the software are outlined below. Sadly we'll have to wait a bit longer for testing Office 2010 Web applications. According to Microsoft, its Web apps can't be tested until later this year.

Final versions of Microsoft Office 2010 and Office Web applications are expected within the first half of 2010. Pricing is still unknown; however, Microsoft says it will bring the number of Office editions down from eight to five. When Office Web applications launch, they will be free and available through Microsoft's Windows Live set of online services. Businesses will be able to choose an Office 2010 licensing option that allows them to host their own Office Web applications. Microsoft's Office 2010 Web site can be found here.

Watch Out Google Apps: Microsoft Now Lets You Create, Edit, Save Office Docs Online

For key Office 2010 programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the online collaborative program OneNote Microsoft now includes Web applications. Microsoft says all the Office 2010 Web applications will be available to anyone with a free Windows Live account. Access will allow you to create, edit, and share existing documents with others. You'll also be able to store documents online to a free Windows Live SkyDrive account.

(See related: Visual Overview of Office 2010 Features)

Online: Office Word App

Don't expect identical features with the online version of Word. Microsoft says it's doing its best to make it a close match to the software equivalent of Word, making sure the Web version retains the same look and feel as in the desktop. Word, like all Office 2010 Web apps, retains the "ribbon user interface." Don't expect the identical functionality as the software client version of Word. With Office Word App you can:

* Create, edit, and save Word documents

* Add tables, bullets, and styles to Word documents

* The browser-based version of Word has AutoCorrect and background spelling checker.

Online: Office PowerPoint App

With the Office PowerPoint App you can create and edit presentations from the Web -- that includes the ability to pick a theme and slide layout. Other online features include:

* Ability to add animations

* In-browser and full-screen Slide Show views.

* Autocorrect, spelling checker, and auto-numbering/bulleting and undo/redo.

* Ability to insert pictures, charts, and tables into existing PowerPoint presentations

Online: Office Excel App

As with other Office Web applications, Microsoft is trying to make the Web version of Excel look and feel like the software version of Excel, but with reduced functions. As you would expect, the Office Excel Web application allows you to create, edit and, save Microsoft Excel workbooks via Web browsers. Other functions:

* Multiuser co-authoring -- more than one person can edit data at the same time.

* The ability to use the same Excel formulas on online and in the client version of the program.

Microsoft Office Reaches for the Clouds

One paper Microsoft Web strategy is compelling. For now, we'll have to take Microsoft at its word when it comes to cloud-based versions of its Office applications. One thing for sure Redmond can talk a good game. All indications are Google is in for some stiff competition when it comes to Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Other online office suites such as ThinkFree Office Online and Zoho Office Suite will also want to watch their backs.

Until Microsoft offers more than press releases for its Office Web Apps there is not much we can say. But given its dominance in the office software market we can assume Microsoft's entrance into this space to make huge waves in the nascent market of cloud-based office productivity applications.

Next Page: A First Look at Software Improvements to Office 2010

While there's lots of room for Office to expand into online functionality and real-time collaboration, there's not much new territory to be explored within the traditional applications themselves. Rather than introduce dozens of new features, Microsoft has tried to make some of the existing capabilities work better, tweaked and extended the Ribbon design introduced in Office 2007 and added a few new bells and whistles.

Word: Is there anything more to add to Word? Not much, according to Microsoft developers, and most users would probably agree. So they focused on making common tasks smoother and existing tools more powerful.

Microsoft developers have data on what thousands of testers do with their products and they noticed one worrisome trend: People very frequently cut-and-paste text into their documents, but in many cases their next act is to undo. The problem is that the text they pasted, whether from another document, a Web page or a spreadsheet, doesn't show up the way they want it to in their file. So a new box appears when you paste text that gives you options for how to format it. Hover over the button for an option and the text changes to preview what it'll look like if you choose that option.

The new version of Word also makes it easier to insert pictures. Instead of being stuck with essentially how the picture looked when you inserted it, you can now make significant edits once it's in your document:, such as adjusting the brightness and contrast, changing the image to greyscale, adding drop shadows, and more.


Excel: The new version of Excel will allow you to create sparkline charts, which are tiny graphs that fit within a cell and summarize the data in the preceding cells. Another addition is slicers. These are essentially macro buttons that allow you to filter the data in a pivot table with one click.

We hope that both new features will be better explained in the final version of Excel because we couldn't manage to make either work in my preview version. Neither is included in the preview versions help file and both were greyed out on the Ribbon bar.

Outlook: Microsoft seems to have made an effort to make Outlook fit in more, making it more like the rest of Office by giving it the full Ribbon interface and more like Webmail services like Gmail by showing threaded conversations.

In Office 2007, Outlook was inexplicably left out of the Ribbon makeover. While Microsoft developers at the time had a rationale, it seemed to me like they had just ran out of time to rework the mail clients interface. Now it gets the full treatment and whether you love the Ribbon or hate it, at least the suite is now consistent.

If you're on a long string of replies to a single e-mail, Outlook will now pull all of those messages together so you can see them all at once. If you get tired of the conversation, you can click to ignore it, automatically deleting the messages and any future replies. (The feature is similar to muting a conversation in Gmail.)

Quick Steps is a promising new feature that's confusingly implemented in the preview version. The idea is that you can easily create a macro that lets you do the same thing with various messages with one click. For instance, we created a Quick Step that automatically forwarded a message with the "WTF?:" inserted before the subject.

But that Quick Step showed up only in the drafts folder, where it was created, and not in the inbox. In fact, the menu for Quick Steps didn't appear at all in the inbox, only when we opened a specific message -- and even then the presentation of this feature was entirely different than it was in the drafts folder.

Powerpoint: The most useful addition to Powerpoint is the ability to broadcast a presentation without setting up a Web meeting. You can share the presentation to a Sharepoint workplace, if your company uses Sharepoint, or to a Microsoft Windows Live account. (The Windows Live option will be free.) Then you can invite others to view the presentation. They'll see it in their browser and won't need to have Powerpoint installed.

The latest version of Microsoft's presentation tool adds some nifty new 3D transitions, like the ability to seemingly overlay your new slide over the previous one or to dissolve from one slide to another. Here's a video that shows most of them in action.

Powerpoint has ways to go to match some of the transitions that are possible in Apple's Keynote software, though, like the capability to rearrange the objects on one slide into a new organization on the next one.

Powerpoint 2010 makes it easier to "borrow" an animation from a slide deck that you really like. You can copy the animation and apply it to objects in your own presentation.

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