Microsoft Office 2010: An Intriguing Beta

Word 2010

In the venerable word processor, OpenType typography takes the spotlight in an Advanced font pane that supports new font-manipulation options, such as the ability to add ligatures and to choose from several style sets. For more-adventurous designers, a new Text Effects pane lets you apply artistic effects (fills, outlines, and the like) to any text--and still edit the text afterward, which you can't do with the Word Art in previous versions. (These features also appear in Publisher 2010.)

[Related: Office 2010 Beta: A Visual Tour of What's New]

Searching documents becomes easier with an upgraded Navigation bar that appears on the left when you initiate a search. Results from keyword searches appear highlighted in the main screen (a nicer experience than clicking Next to jump from location to location).

Excel 2010

Microsoft continues to expand and refine the visualization tools in its popular spreadsheet application. The biggest innovation is a feature called Sparklines that lets you create miniature charts within a single cell, a way to instantly show multiple trends across several contiguous data sets. For sophisticated users, PivotTables and PivotCharts allow you to create highly customizable tables and charts from existing data sets with a few mouse clicks. While PivotCharts aren't new to Excel, the ability to create filters on the fly is.

PowerPoint 2010

If you're giving a presentation to an army of laptop users, wouldn't it be nice if your presentation could appear--while still under your control--on the laptop displays of your audience (or, perhaps, on desktops in the room)? PowerPoint Broadcast Service, one of the more impressive PowerPoint innovations, lets you accomplish this with a minimum of fuss and nothing to install. Simply click on the Broadcast Slide Show button in the Slide Show ribbon, and PowerPoint uploads your presentation to Microsoft's free service and creates a link for distribution (via e-mail or copying) to your audience members. They then click on the link and see in their browser the same slideshow view that you do--with you driving.

Embedding video in a presentation requires only a click or two, whether you're drawing from your own library or a site such as YouTube. Presentations using a Web video will warn you about the necessity of a live Internet connection; if you use your own video, PowerPoint permits you to edit it down to a desired length, add fade-ins and fade-outs, and otherwise perform minor editing tasks before packing it up with the presentation.

As usual, PowerPoint jocks also get assorted new transitions to play with. My faves include Ferris Wheel, Shred, and Vortex.

OneNote 2010

OneNote, Microsoft's note-taking application, has acquired new powers in Office 2010, primarily through the addition of conduits that relay data from (or otherwise link it to) other applications. Among other things, you can send documents to OneNote using Office's print function, which presents OneNote as an alternative to hardware printers, PDF creators, and the like. If you choose that option, a dialog box appears showing your OneNote file structure, so you can place the content in the right location.

You can also take notes in OneNote while working in Word, in PowerPoint, or on the Web. Clicking Linked Notes associates what you've written in OneNote to the location in the source document. Internet Explorer 8 has a similar feature, OneNote Linked Notes, under Tools (near the option to e-mail a page to OneNote).

Outlook 2010

Microsoft's personal information manager receives a ribbon that fans of that type of interface will like and detractors won't. Several additional tweaks (support for transcription of voicemail, for example) depend on use of Microsoft Exchange and/or Communicator, but everyone can benefit from other new features such as a calendar preview (to check for conflicts when receiving invitations).

More-dramatic changes are in Business Contact Manager, with assorted features designed to manage not only customers but also projects. Potentially the biggest news is Outlook Social Connector, a feature that's supposed to let you follow status updates from third-party social networks that create feeds using Microsoft APIs. The feeds will appear on the e-mail reading screen.

Access 2010

Microsoft continues to fight the good fight to make its database app more, well, accessible. In addition to new templates to help you get started, Access now offers Application Parts and Quick Start features to help you create database forms by picking and choosing the fields and features you need.

And while it isn't listed with other Office Web Apps, Access now lets you create a Web database, either from scratch or by importing an existing one. This feature, however, depends on SharePoint support.

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