Microsoft Office 2010
With Office 2010, Microsoft continues to refine the dramatic overhaul that it began with the 2007 editions, while adding a few nifty new features with marquee appeal--all at prices much lower than we saw for similar Office 2007 packages.
In general, the shipping version of the suite isn't much different from the Office 2010 beta we wrote about last year. Some of the new features should impress even jaded Office users; PowerPoint's Broadcast Slide Show function, which lets you show a presentation remotely to anyone who has a Web browser, heads the list.
Improved customization features for the ribbon interface, which premiered in the key Office 2007 programs and is now present suitewide, could mollify some of the ribbon's many critics: You can now assemble the commands you use most frequently--regardless of where they normally reside--in tabs and groups of your own creation.
Overall, the suite's look is more consistent from one app to another--and more subdued than its predecessor, primarily because Microsoft opted for a palette of mostly grey and white, versus the sky blue of Office 2007.
Gone is the big and somewhat ungainly Office button that appeared in the upper-left of each window. Instead, clicking on the File tab now brings up a new window (called Backstage view) with a slew of options for creating, saving, sharing, and printing, as well as for accessing recent versions of the current document--or easily opening others via a handy list of recent documents. This window also leads you to menus for application-specific options.
In addition, Office 2010 introduces a nice little refinement to the most basic of all content-creation tasks, pasting material you've cut or copied. The new Live Preview for paste not only lets you opt to retain the source formatting, merge with destination formatting, or transfer text, but also allows you to see what your choice will look like before you commit to it--much the way the ribbon lets you try out formats by hovering your pointer over them.
The suite also now boasts some fairly sophisticated image- and video-editing tools that could, for many users, eliminate the need to process media with third-party applications before using them in Office documents.
Responding to the increasing problem of malware that arrives in files downloaded from the Web, the programs now by default open downloaded Office documents in a protected view, with editing disabled until you explicitly authorize it by clicking a button in a highly visible warning that appears at the top of the window.
Overall, Office 2010 shapes up as a pleasing and, in many ways, useful successor to Office 2007. Microsoft isn't offering upgrade pricing, but the Product Key Card versions aren't outrageously expensive, and many people will be fine with either the four-app (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) Home and Student edition for as little as $119, or, if Outlook is a must, the $199 Home and Business suite. Especially if you skipped Office 2007, a switch to Office 2010 is worth considering--even in a recession.
Note: This link takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software. It is available in several different editions with different prices. For a comparison of the different versions, see PCWorld's full review.