Great Office 2010 Features For Business

Most of us by now are familiar with all the obviously new parts of Office 2010, such as the revised Ribbon, the Backstage document view, Paste preview, and Outlook's Conversation view. But many of the really powerful changes in Office 2010 go far beyond cosmetic -- they're functional, under-the-hood improvements aimed squarely at people who use Office in a business context. Here, then, is a rundown of some key new features in Office 2010 aimed at people who use Office to make their work not just easier, but possible.

The business-grade features in Office 2010 reflect not only the increasingly online orientation of software but also the changing nature of the way business is done. More and more offices are becoming an agglomeration of a dozen disparate home computers, not a single, fixed corporate building. The next mission: making next-generation Office apps a sure thing on phones and tablets, too. But Office on the desktop -- and in the workplace -- remains solid.

[ Also on InfoWorld: That's not all! Microsoft Office 2010 has a number of other features that businesses will love. See "Top 10 Office 2010 features for business" and "PowerPivot for Excel 2010: Power to Excel people." ]

Simultaneous editing or co-authoring
Here's a feature I've been awaiting for quite some time: the ability for multiple users to make changes to the same document in real time, and have those changes show up on everyone else's computer at once. Microsoft calls it co-authoring. It's been implemented elsewhere; for instance, Google Docs has supported simultaneous editing for some time, and a company named Plutexthas been working on a simultaneous-editing solution for Word 2007 and Word 2003. But now Microsoft has added co-authoring as a native feature in Word, Excel, and OneNote.

The idea, as discussed by Microsoft before, is that people should be able to open a document, get to work, and have simultaneous changes recorded as part of their existing workflow. That said, you can't make this happen just by opening a copy of a Word document on a shared network drive or an FTP site. The document needs to be hosted on a SharePoint server or, failing that, on Microsoft's own free online storage service SkyDrive. Most people will probably encounter this feature via SkyDrive first, considering SkyDrive is free and requires far less work to set up than a SharePoint server.

Word 2010 provides the best functional example for how co-authoring works. When you open a document for co-authoring, you receive a notification about who else is editing the document in the program's status bar. Each of the users in question has a credentials pane; you can click it to obtain contact information, email addresses, IM handles, and so on. (There's no direct user-to-user chat function, which would have been handy, but maybe that's only because Microsoft assumes you already have some way of talking to the people you're collaborating with.)

One important thing about collaborative editing with Office 2010 is that changes don't register in real time. They register whenever you save a document, which allows the version you've created to be reconciled with the version currently stored on the server. When the save is finished, every section of the document that's been changed is marked to show who made the edits and what they consisted of. Word also tries to prevent people from stepping on each other's work too much; if a user is typing a paragraph and hits Save, the paragraph is locked for editing until that user is done. Likewise, you can protect or allow editing on whole regions of the document manually, and indicate that the section in question can be edited only by certain people or in certain ways (for example, only adding comments).

Office Web Apps, available through Live.com, also support simultaneous editing. For example, upload an Excel document to SkyDrive, open it for editing from multiple Live.com accounts, and you'll see a notification in the bottom-right corner of the window that tells you who's working on the document. Unlike with the desktop versions, changes show up almost instantaneously in the Web Apps, and regions of the document can't be protected through the Web interface. (click image to enlarge)

A document edited in Word 2010 by multiple authors. Clicking on the "2" to the right of the word count shows the total list of authors. The section in green with the author callout is currently being written by someone at another computer.

Record a slideshow as video
For a long time, to make sure that someone else could read your PowerPoint slide deck, you had to convert it into some other format. Not everyone had -- nor did they want -- PowerPoint. Most of the conversions I've seen involved turning a PPT file into HTML or PDF, and while they were readable, they lacked one detail: the presence of the presenter.

The Record Slide Show feature in PowerPoint 2010 goes a long way toward fixing this issue. Just about every aspect of a slideshow presentation -- including your own voice-over -- can be recorded and exported as a video. Even the virtual laser pointer (hold down the left Ctrl key and point the cursor at the slide) can be recorded. The downside is that the only output format for video appears to be WMV -- no saving a video directly in H.264, for instance, which could be streamed directly to a browser that supports it with no other software needed.

Broadcast a slideshow
With offices becoming more decentralized, it makes sense for PowerPoint to have a native way to share a slideshow presentation with people in remote locations. Behold the new Broadcast option, which lets you transmit a PowerPoint presentation to anyone with a Web browser. All they have to do is go to a URL that you provide.

Microsoft also intuited, quite wisely, that most users' ISPs shouldn't be saddled with the burden of distributing the broadcast themselves. To that end, you can transmit the slideshow through Microsoft's own PowerPoint Broadcast Service, which you can freely access as a licensed Office user. You can also use "a broadcast service provided by your organization, hosted on a server that has the Microsoft Office Web Apps installed" (Microsoft's own words).

The bad news: Not everything carries over faithfully. All slide transitions turn into fades, annotations made on the slide deck will not show up, and audio components to the broadcast (including your own narration) won't be included. You'll still need to get all the participants to dial into whatever voice-conference bridge you've set up. But it's conceivable that those omitted features will eventually be added, perhaps via Silverlight.

Business Contact Manager

Outlook 2010's Business Contact Manager, shown here with preloaded sample data, turns Outlook into a full-fledged CRM while retaining Outlook's familiar interface.
The single biggest business feature for Outlook isn't in Outlook itself, but in a complementary product: the newly revamped Business Contact Manager. Available only in the Professional Plus and Standard SKUs of Office 2010, Business Contact Manager is essentially an organizational overlay for Outlook 2010. With it you can classify everything in Outlook into several basic business-oriented categories: sales, marketing, project management, and business records. From those, you can create prioritized workflows -- for example, build a list of the best potential clients to be called, and develop a call log for all those clients as you speak to them -- and see the progress of everything you're doing via a whole slew of included report formats. Microsoft has also provided tools to allow BCM databases to be hosted on remote servers, rather than one's local machine. (click image to enlarge)

[ The right choice of Windows 7 versions depends on a number of factors. See "32-bit Windows 7 or 64-bit Windows 7?" ]

Calendar publishing
It used to be that the only way to get access to someone else's calendar in Outlook was to use Exchange or a third-party add-on to sync calendars with an external service. Outlook 2010 now has a native calendar publishing feature, which allows your calendar to be automatically or manually synchronized with either a WebDAV server of your choice or Microsoft's own Office Online service. You have control over the time span you want to publish (up to 90 days in either direction) and the amount of detail listed for your calendar entries.

Outlook Social Connector
Any contacts you have listed in Outlook can be associated with social networks, with a feed of all such activity associated with that person no more than a click away in most contexts. With social networking fast becoming one of the ways decentralized offices are bound together, it makes sense, but it's rather underdeveloped. The only social networks that work are LinkedIn and MySpace; Facebook and even Microsoft's own Windows Live are "coming soon."

More on Office 2010:

This article, "More great Office 2010 features for business," was originally published atInfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Windows, Microsoft Office, and applicationsat InfoWorld.com.

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Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for more than 15 years in a variety of publications, including InformationWeek and Windows Magazine.

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