Office 2010: The Technologizer First Look

Microsoft is starting to let folks in on the Webbiest, most collaborative Office ever. But it's not all there yet.

By  |  Monday, July 13, 2009 at 9:06 am

Outlook 2010

Outlook 2010 ConveraationOutlook gets a bunch of additional features for dealing with overstuffed inboxes. The new Conversation view groups together all the e-mails in a thread, collapsing them into a single item in the inbox list until you expand them. You’ll be able to “Clean Up” a conversation by deleting messages that are duplicated within more recent messages (although I haven’t been able to get this to work in the Technical Preview). A practical and entertaining new “Ignore” option lets you avoid everything in a Conversation, including messages that haven’t arrived yet–perfect for those occasions when you can’t figure out why somebody’s cc:ing you on a discussion.

Outlook 2010 QuickStepsA new feature called Quick Steps–which seems to be available only for Exchange e-mail accounts, not POP or IMAP ones–is a sort of mashup of macros and rules, letting you set up multi-step actions which you can initiate with one click.  A QuickStep might let you categorize a message and move it to a particular folder, for instance; you can get to them from the Ribbon or assign them to particular keystrokes.

As I mentioned, this is the first version of Outlook that sports the Ribbon in the main application window as well as the editing one. It doesn’t have a major impact on the program’s functionality, but eliminates a peculiar example of inconsistency in the Office 2007 interface.

PowerPoint 2010

PowerPoint 2010 VideoWith its sophisticated graphics features, PowerPoint was already the Office app least likely to get a truly satisfying Web-based rival any time soon–and it gets one of the beefiest upgrades in Office 2010. It’s the first version of PowerPoint with genuinely serious video features: You can import videos in a variety of formats, trim them down to the section you’d like to keep, and control how they’re played back  in the show. You can even give  them any of the effects you can apply to still images, such as rotating them or applying a reflection. Some of these features are a tad unwieldy in the Technical Preview–you do some of the editing directly on the slide, and some in a video-editing window–but they’re still impressive.

This is also the first version of PowerPoint to feature video output capabilities: You can export your show as a Windows Media file, complete with audio narration if you’ve added it. (I hereby predict that YouTube will be overrun with zillions of PowerPoint shows.) I wish that both the video input and export features supported QuickTime for better compatibility with iPhones (including the iPhone 3GS’s video-capturing feature). Maybe it’s too much to expect Microsoft to enable a file format that’s synonymous with Apple, but we iPhone owners can always dream.

office-transitionsPowerPoint’s transitions, which hadn’t changed much over the years, have been slicked up for 2010 with smoother, more cinematic effects and fancy options like an animated ripp;e. They still don’t have the “look at ME!” flashiness of some of the transitions in Apple’s Keynote, but that’s probably a plus.

A new feature called Animation Painter–similar to Office’s venerable Format Painter–lets you copy a whole sequence of animation effects from one object to another. It can be a huge timesaver if you like to make multiple elements bop around the screen in elaborate ways.

I wasn’t able to try a new presentation broadcasting feature designed to let PowerPoint users conduct WebEx-like shows over the Internet, which can be viewed by remote participants in their browsers–even on a smartphone. PowerPoint has had similar features in the past which were splendid in theory but which just didn’t work well; if the new version nails it, it could be a big deal for lots of users.

The Kitchen Sink

As usual, the Office system encompasses a bunch of applications which will be available in multiple versions of the suite and standalone incarnations. (Including applications I’ve mentioned only in passing or not at all here: OneNote, the Access database, the Publisher desktop-publishing package, the Visio business-graphics application, and mor). Microsoft is saying that it’s simplified the lineup of Office versions to eliminate understandable confusion about what’s available in which edition, but it always says that.

Versions aimed at consumers and small businesses this time around include Office Home and Student (Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Word); Office Home and Business (Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word); and Office Professional (all of the above, plus Access and Publisher). Versions of Office 2010 intended for businesses will include Office Standard (Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Word) and Professional Plus version (all of the above, plus Access, InfoPath, the Microsoft Communicator instant-messaging app, and SharePoint Workspace). Microsoft hasn’t announced the prices of any of these incarnations.

Of course, pricing is the least of the questions that remain about Office 2010. For me, the most interesting unknown is this: Just how good will the free Web Apps be? Could they be substantial enough that anyone except the most casual users will be tempted to use them instead of paying for the Office 2010 upgrade? Or will Microsoft protect its Office cash cow by dumbing down the free Web Apps in fundamental ways?

Like I said, it’s risky to come to even preliminary conclusions about questions like these until you’ve had real hands-on experience with the services in question. But I do know I’m looking forward to forming those opinions as soon as I can–as well as hearing what the rest of the world thinks. Meanwhile, if you’re in on the Technical Preview, let us know your initial impressions.

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Paw Hellegaard Says:

    Thanks for sharing, great article!

  2. Josh Says:

    It’s nice to see Microsoft finally acknowledging the web. Maybe we can put SharePoint in our past… forever.

    I’m guessing that Office 2010 won’t work with Firefox or Safari and that this will become just another extension of the monopoly’s attempt to circle the wagons rather than to innovate and provide value for its customers. We’ll see.

    It’s a real shame that Google only half-heartedly exploited Microsoft’s recent weaknesses. Google Docs got a great start — and people noticed — but as Google Gears floundered, Docs never evolved into something more useful. Meanwhile, Zoho over-evovled and became a clumsy overstuffed suite of applications, trying to be all things to all people.

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    Josh–Thanks for the thoughts. Microsoft specifically says that the Web apps will work in Safari and Firefox…

    –Harry

  4. Marc Says:

    I hope they speed up Outlook. I’m amazed at how my iPhone can be so fast when accessing Exchange and IMAP accounts, yet on my high spec XP box at work, Outlook regularly freezes momentary, just enough to annoy me, when browsing mailboxes.

  5. Tom Reestman Says:

    This might be a better write up on the newest office than even Paul Thurrott’s (and that’s saying something).

    It really looks like Microsoft has paid attention in this release. Not only to weaknesses in the otherwise promising Ribbon interface, but also to some of the slicker features in Apple’s iWork.

    As near as I can tell, the biggest problems in Office now will be that the days of very expensive office suites are numbered (I’m just not sure I’ll take the plunge this time), and there are too many freakin’ versions (five, thankfully down from eight).

  6. Rufus T. Firefly Says:

    Godfrey Daniel! I’ve just begun struggling with making sense out ofr Office 2007.

  7. ediedi Says:

    I’m using office 2008 for mac – there’s no ribbon!
    Anyway, who needs another version of office? Almost nobody I know uses the latest verson anyway (.docx backwards incompatibility is really annoying).
    Won’t be upgrading anytime soon…

  8. Jess Says:

    Office 2010 sounds interesting, but why wait for it to come out when you can use a product like eXpresso which already exists. I use eXpresso for business and personal needs and I LOVE IT! eXpresso provides real-time collaboration and editing control for shared Microsoft Office files in the cloud. Check it out at http://www.expressocorp.com

  9. billige mobiler Says:

    very nice blog.. I like the design, its cool:-)

  10. billige mobiltelefoner Says:

    very nice wordpress block, i gust love the design.

  11. Tim F. Says:

    The problem with the ribbon is that the tabs are clickable rather than hoverable.

    It may expose some new functions to some limited users at opportune times, but for users who know what they want, being faced with: I can’t access that function without clicking a tab which changes the interface to select the same application menu option which is now a huge icon, click back on the other tab to go back to interface, interact with window, repeat…

    That just makes no sense in many situations. Before, I could access ALL functions by hovering the mouse through the application menu without leaving any particular interface or tab. How is only giving me a subset of functions at any given time better if I know what I am doing? For some apps where context specific actions may be common (building a table, etc…), it can be helpful… if you don’t need to quickly or frequently access functions of a different type, located in a different tab. But for many apps, it just isn’t helpful at all.

    Office was a fine suite of applications until 2007.

  12. boe Says:

    Nothing beneficial for most businesses – no reason to upgrade/purchase –

    Like Vista – all bling – no function.

    If they wanted to improve Office they SHOULD have –
    1. Made outlook open multiple e-mail accounts as full exchange -not an additional mailbox with some functionality or pop/imap with very limited functionality but two seperate exchange profiles simultaneously from multiple exchange servers.

    2. Full OLE support for pictures in access – umm wasn’t that functional with Office XP – why take that out? Why should someone have to code to add pictures to a personal database? Might was well use oracle or a real database if you are going to have to use code. Adding Office XP photo editor is the work around but why not just add photo editor back into office if that is the solution?

    3. Offer the old menu bar for people (most of my clients) who don’t want to learn the new menu bar. You can finally modify the ribbon to some extent in 2010 however my clients just want their old ribbon bar. Frankly I have no issue with the new menu bar but I’m one person and most of my clients don’t like it so prefer to stick with office 2003. MS could make money selling the new version if they just offered the old menu as a choice with the new ribbon.

  13. boe Says:

    Nothing beneficial for most businesses – no reason to upgrade/purchase –

    Like Vista – all bling – no function.

    If they wanted to improve Office they SHOULD have –
    1. Made outlook open multiple e-mail accounts as full exchange -not an additional mailbox with some functionality or pop/imap with very limited functionality but two seperate exchange profiles simultaneously from multiple exchange servers.

    2. Full OLE support for pictures in access – umm wasn’t that functional with Office XP – why take that out? Why should someone have to code to add pictures to a personal database? Might was well use oracle or a real database if you are going to have to use code. Adding Office XP photo editor is the work around but why not just add photo editor back into office if that is the solution?

    3. Offer the old menu bar for people (most of my clients) who don’t want to learn the new menu bar. You can finally modify the ribbon to some extent in 2010 however my clients just want their old ribbon bar. Frankly I have no issue with the new menu bar but I’m one person and most of my clients don’t like it so prefer to stick with office 2003. MS could make money selling the new version if they just offered the old menu as a choice with the new ribbon.

  14. Perry Says:

    Excuse me? Quick Step is only available for Outlook Exchange? This is one of the best maybe the best new feature in Outlook 2010, the search is well you know (but I haven’t expected something different) and something you can cope with as long as you have been smart enough to get yourself a third-party search tool like lookeen, but hey Microsoft what is going on, do you want to scare the rest of the Outlook users away to other e-mail-programs like Thunderbird?

  15. Jim Britt Says:

    The ribbons STINK! They are clunky and primative compared to the menu bar!

    Access 2010 is HORRIBLE; they took a good product and made it 100 times more complicated.

    IF IT AIN'T BROKE DON'T FIX IT!

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