Office 2010 shows early promise

 

Test drive the technical preview.

Microsoft used last week’s Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans to announce details of its Office 2010 productivity suite, which is due to be available in the first half of next year.

Computing took a look at the technical preview of the software and gave it a quick test drive to identify the key benefits for corporate IT users.

Office Web Applications

Frustratingly, the most important new feature, Office Web Applications, is still not available for testing. “It will be available through Windows Live at a later date during technical preview and will have limited functionality at this milestone,” according to Microsoft’s Office 2010 technical preview documentation. Office Web Applications is designed to allow users to edit and collaborate on documents on the move without having a local copy of data. Companies that do not want business-critical data exposed in a cloud environment will need a SharePoint installation. Office Web Applications will include online, but “reduced functionality”, versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word.

Improved Outlook

The new version of Outlook can be used to access multiple email accounts, and has features making it easier to manage email. For example, it was easy to set up an inbox to a Google Mail account, and view that inbox through Outlook. The default was to arrange emails in this inbox by “conversation view”, which grouped thread-related conversations.

Other features include the “conversation cleanup” tool, which can be used to look across an email conversation thread, and remove to a specific folder emails that have duplicated information. For large organisations with lengthy email distribution lists, the “ignore conversation” option can be used to take out threads not normally intended for minor recipients, and puts them into the “deleted items” box.

Outlook 2010 will also allow voicemail and faxes to be sent to your inbox ­ – but you will need Exchange 2010 on the back end. Using Office Communicator in conjunction with Outlook 2010, your Communicator “buddy list” is visible, and hovering over a name will give their availability. Contact through instant messaging, voice call or video will then be possible, but again you will need additional Microsoft applications ­ Office Communicator 2007 R2 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2.

Document fidelity

One thing Microsoft has worked on in Office 2010 is document fidelity ­ – whereby formatting is preserved across versions and users ­ which is important for business users. With Office 2010, Microsoft says this problem has been eliminated, and it worked for all our complex documents emailed across Office 2010 installations on XP Professional, Vista and the Windows 7 release candidate. However, we could not check what happens when documents move across Word Mobile 2010 since this is not included in the Office 2010 preview applications or suites.

Office BackStage

In the top left-hand corner in all the new Office applications is Office BackStage, an all-in-one sub-menu that is designed to make major changes to your Office documents simpler. For users well versed in dealing with new features and who do not normally require any IT support, getting used to controlling content through BackStage should not be too much of a problem. However, users who find new interfaces disorientating may need some support.

The best of the rest

The rest of the new features will each result in minor productivity increases for enterprise users, but may give a significant increase when added together.

Word has new cut and paste options, saving time with the “keep text only” option, which pastes in the content you want –­ and in the format you are already using. Excel has been rejigged with tools for better data visualisation and data handling.

Excel, PowerPoint and Word all come with better photo editing tools, and PowerPoint has video editing capabilities to quickly trim content. However, our two attempts at inserting videos into PowerPoint both ended in failure.

Conclusion

Office 2010 has important new enterprise features that will save time managing email, collaborating on shared documents, and creating content, but they require full end-to-end Microsoft software to achieve. One major feature for businesses ­ – Office Web Applications ­ – could not be evaluated. This was a shame, because if it lives up to expectation, this feature is likely to be one of Office 2010’s biggest selling points.

itweek.co.uk @ 2010 Incisive Media


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