Dissecting Microsoft Office 2010

The word on Word

Word hasn't changed drastically in Office 2010 -- and this should come as no surprise, considering that it's already overstuffed with features that most people don't use. There's simply not that much left to add that Word doesn't already have.

That being said, there is one very useful addition: the Navigation Pane (formerly called the Document Map in Office 2007).

The Navigation Pane is composed of three parts. One displays the organization of a document by headings and lets you quickly jump to any section. Another shows thumbnails of each page. And the third, the search pane, is a powered-up search tool, showing your search results in context. You can also search through tables, charts and other material.

Word's Navigation Pane shows at a glance the organization of a document by its headings.

There are also useful new features for those who care about the appearance of their documents, including new text effects, picture-editing tools and graphics-handling tools. (Click image to enlarge)

Text effects let you add graphic effects -- gradient fills, shadows, glows and so on -- to text. What's nifty is that, unlike WordArt from the previous Word versions, the text stays as actual text rather than being turned into a graphic image, so you can still spell-check it. Font fiends will also appreciate new typographic capabilities that allow for fancier fonts and sophisticated typographic elements, such as ligatures and small caps.

There are a variety of new picture-editing tools for quick-and-dirty graphics editing, including ones that handle color saturation, sharpening and more. The Screen Clipping option allows you to take a screenshot anywhere in Windows and insert it into your document. It also shows you a list of all of the screenshots you've taken, including those taken from other programs -- which can be popped into Word documents as well.

What's new in Excel

Excel, like Word, has gotten a number of nice tweaks -- but as with Word, don't expect to be bowled over by them. If Outlook 2010 is Outlook 2007 on steroids, Word and Excel 2010 are Word and Excel 2007 on multivitamins.

Most useful are what are called "Sparklines," cell-sized charts that can be embedded in worksheets to give visual representations of data. For example, if you're creating a stock-tracking spreadsheet, you could create a Sparkline for each stock to graph its performance over time and display it in a nifty, simple-to-digest manner. (Click image to enlarge)

Sparklines are cell-sized charts that can display data in a nifty, simple-to-digest manner.

Other useful tools for displaying data are "slicers" -- built-in applets that let you easily filter and display information and allow you to create dashboards that can track many pieces of data visually. And for data hounds, a downloadable add-on for Excel called "Project Gemini" can handle massive amounts of data, including worksheets with hundreds of millions of rows. Without it, Excel would choke on that amount of data and not be able to load and analyze it.

Also new are improvements to conditional formatting, which is the ability to apply a format to a range of cells and have the formatting change according to the value of the cell or formula.

PowerPoint: Video tools and remote presentations

PowerPoint, like Outlook, has gotten a significant upgrade in this new version of Office, and Microsoft has done an excellent job of focusing on those areas that are of the most use to people today -- video handling and Web-based presentations.

The new Broadcast Slide Show tool will likely be the most-used new feature of PowerPoint. It offers a simple way to share a presentation over the Web on an ad hoc basis with as many people as you want. (Click image to enlarge)

PowerPoint, like Outlook, has gotten a significant upgrade.

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