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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.
Some other new features work only with other Microsoft applications, such as a presence indicator that allows you to see which of your Windows Live Messenger contacts are online and to initiate conversations from within various suite applications.
Office 2010 is the first iteration of the Microsoft suite to arrive in both 32- and 64-bit versions. The 64-bit edition, however, does not have the full functionality of the 32-bit suite: Among other things, third-party Outlook Social Connector add-ons (for displaying updates from popular social networks within Outlook) are not immediately available for x64 (Microsoft says they will arrive eventually).
Editor's note (5/11/10): Previously we stated (based on information from Microsoft) that Outlook x64 does not support synchronization with Windows Mobile devices because 64-bit versions of Windows lack the Windows Mobile Device Center. We have since confirmed that that statement is incorrect, and that mobile device support does exist in both 64-bit Windows and 64-bit Office 2010.
The 64-bit editions of Excel and Microsoft Project can use x64's ability to address more memory to run huge spreadsheets or project models, respectively (though strangely the same does not hold true for large Access databases). Unless you bump into limits with the 32-bit version of these applications, however, Microsoft recommends that you stick with the 32-bit edition of Office, even if your computer runs a 64-bit operating system.
A Useful Update
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.
Next: Word 2010, Excel 2010, and PowerPoint 2010