Review: A week with Office 2010 Tech Preview

The Office suite from Microsoft includes a number of complex applications, which is why I spent some time using the applications before writing a review. Whilst this is only...

The Office suite from Microsoft includes a number of complex applications, which is why I spent some time using the applications before writing a review. Whilst this is only a tech preview, it’s not expected there’ll be major new features introduced (web-version excluded), before final release.

Microsoft Office 2010

Overview
After spending a week with Office 2010, I have to say, the changes aren’t massive. This version can be described very much as evolutionary rather than evolutionary, like that of Office 2007.

Office 2007’s most notable and popular feature was the ribbon interface. Office 2010 builds on this by extending the ribbon to those apps that missed out last time. Outlook, OneNote, Publisher and even to related SharePoint collaboration software which is branded but not included in Office. New in this release is the renaming of groove to SharePoint Workspace (the Tech Preview still contains multiple references to the Groove name).

With Office 2007 being a solid release for Microsoft, it begs the question for business – why would I upgrade to Office 2010. The short answer is – most won’t. As I said above this release is essentially incremental, offering some nice additions, but I doubt enough to make a convincing business case in most scenarios.

Performance
Possibly the biggest feature I noticed was speed. Office 2010 is fast, really fast. Of course I’m testing the first 64-bit version of Office on 2 systems, one with 4GB RAM, the other with 8GB. Applications now launch almost instantly, with Outlook taking the longest – 1-2 seconds. Almost to fast. To fast you ask ? I say that, because you almost miss a nice subtle change to the launch screen.

It now includes the ability to cancel the application launch. This is really easy if you’ve ever accidently clicked on the wrong application, rather than waiting, you can cancel and launch the correct app. This is obviously more valuable on slower systems.

Outlook 2010
The big changes here are the addition of the ribbon, conversation view (which groups related messages, quick steps for automating common tasks and Find a Contact which allows quick searching of contacts across local and global address lists.

When using Outlook 2010 in a corporate network, there’s also an additional calendar group available. This calendar group allows you to view the availability of your co-workers, which is specified by Exchange. If Active Directory is not up to date i.e. who you report to, who reports to you etc, there’s a few instances in Office 2010 that will expose this.
Outlook 2010

Word 2010
Nothing to see here. Well that’s not quite true, Word 2010 does have the new BackStage like the other Office apps, other than that, changes here are minor.

Word 2010

Excel 2010
Same as Word, very little changes here, but honestly did there need to be ?

image

PowerPoint 2010
The PowerPoint developers have been busy, adding some very useful new features and improvements. There’s some great new Sample Templates to start with including a Widescreen Presentation! With everything going widescreen, this was only a matter of time. Whilst it’s been possible for quite a while to setup a widescreen presentation manually, hardly any did. The problem now is that many businesses have projectors and screens that are 4:3.

That aside there are some great new transitions available, as well as a number of new animations that’ll help spice up that presentation. Please use these sparingly, presentations can go from interesting to cheesy very quickly. The new video support and video trimming feature are welcome additions, anyone who’s dealt with video in the past will know how frustrating this seemingly easy task can be.
PowerPoint 2010

Access 2010
Access was the application I spent the least amount of time with, however any major changes made since Access 2007 aren’t immediately apparent (BackStage excepted).

Access 2010

Publisher 2010
Sure, it may have the ribbon now, but that’s an expected addition to Publisher 2010, but honestly I expected more change this time. Publisher has always seemed to be the red-headed step child of the Office suite. It is what it is.

Publisher 2010

OneNote 2010
Personally I don’t find OneNote particularly useful, taking random notes may work for some, but I prefer a more structured, document approach to organisation. One good feature is the Windows Key + S to take a screen capture (uses the Snipping Tool).

OneNote 2010

Jump Lists
One of the new features in Windows 7 – Jump Lists are supported by the Office 2010 applications. Outlook in particular gives unique options by right-clicking on the application shortcut. The other apps display a list of recently used documents, all of which are able to be pinned to the jump list. This is especially helpful for use with commonly used templates.

Outlook 2010 Jump List

Backstage
Backstage is a new interface element which replaces the drop down menu from the Office button in 2007. Rather than a simple list of options for users, Backstage presents the user with screen that overlays the application and focuses the users attention of document operations. These are your typical tasks of saving, printing, publishing etc. I’m not entirely convinced this is a necessary change, I feel it doesn’t offer anything over the previous menu layout.

My other problem is that it’s only one level deep, once you get past the initial screen of options, your usually presented with the same Office 2007 UI prompt.
BackStage in Office 2010

Compatibility
The good news is compatibility is preserved with Office 2010 still using the new .docx, .xslx, pptx etc. file types that were introduced in 2007. Something I found particularly impressive is that PowerPoint presentations that use the new PowerPoint 2010 transitions, fail gracefully when opened in PowerPoint 2007, appearing as a simple fade effect instead.

Overall
Overall Office 2010 is better than 2007, the typical OEM transition to the latest version will see a natural evolution of Home users moving to Office 2010 over time. However most businesses will stick with Office 2007 and hold off for more significant upgrades in Office 2013.

Of course there is going to be special use-cases where features like simultaneous multi-user editing or absolute performance are business critical, but I’d imagine these are the exception rather than the rule.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.