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Office 2010 Worth It?

Office 2010 has some great changes at first glance, but is it really worth the upgrade?

Sometime in 2010, Microsoft will release the next version of its flagship Office suite. It has taken Microsoft a long time to integrate its office suite with the web, and now that it is finally arriving, everyone’s asking whether it will provide enough change to entice an upgrade, or will it just remain a routine update for those still stuck on Office 2003?

After a few days of testing the beta version of Office 2010, we’re impressed by the solid effort Microsoft has put in to polish and expand upon the groundwork it laid with Office 2007, while continuing to add new features. The ribbon-interface has been refined and enhanced. Outlook now comes with a powerful feature that combines your email with social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Microsoft has clearly focused a lot on network collaboration with improved SharePoint support, and integration with Windows Live. This along with Office web apps means users can now access their files anywhere provided there’s an internet connection, save files directly to their SharePoint server or Windows live and collaborate and edit documents simultaneously with other users. Let us delve a little deeper into what new Office 2010 promises to offer and what it has succeeded in doing so.

Overall improvement

Office will now also be available in a 64-bit version, although average users won’t notice a significant difference.

Office 2010 bridges the gap between the Windows Vista and Windows 7 eras by streamlining the Ribbon user interface and extending it to encompass all the Office applications. The overall experience has also been tweaked by bringing its layout and structure in line with the Ribbon objects from the Windows 7 SDK. Users can now customize the ribbon without having to delve into XML to add their own tabs and commands.

The layout of the underlying button menu has been changed considerably. It is now a customized, window-spanning alternative view that combines information about the currently selected object with various actions and configuration options. And the view is also context sensitive, as in it adapts itself to match your current work status.

Backstage View is a new feature that provides information of your common tasks such as saving, printing and sharing documents. One of the most useful aspects of this view is the revised print preview, which combines all the previous printing and layout options and puts them next to a sleek print preview of your file for convenient access. Third-party add-ins can add features to the Backstage view, so you can expect the next generation of PDF viewers, OCR software, and other applications to install their own automation and integration features inside Office applications.

One minor change that could prove to be the biggest productivity enhancers in Office 2010 is an improved copy-and-paste feature. When you paste anything, you can now paste-preview how it will look depending on your paste choice. This is like an improvement we didn’t know we wanted, but realized it’s cool to have it.

New photo-editing options are available in some Office applications, like sharpening or softening, changing the contrast and color saturation, cropping, remove background option, and a variety of Photoshop-wannabe “artistic effects.” There is an Insert Screenshot icon on the ribbon which is kind of like [Windows] + [S] in OneNote 2007. It lets you blissfully illustrate your documents with anything on your display.

Microsoft Word 2010

There’s not much you can add to Word, but the new interface is simple, and packed with some new small features that make common tasks smoother and existing tools more powerful. There is even a protected view that warns you about documents you’ve downloaded and offers to open them in read-only mode.

Word now has an improved and smoother ribbon with added features

Backstage menu has been implemented well in the new word. For those of you, who use some files frequently, you can promote them to the Backstage menu itself. The new Add-Ins menu keeps your third-party programs and add-ons well organized and managed.

The new navigation pane for searching is a boon. You can even search charts, tables, footnotes and other content now. The search interface opens as a left-hand pane, with a good set of option. It also displays a navigable map of thumbnails of your document like Adobe Reader.

The new version of Word also makes it more convenient to insert pictures. You can make significant edits, such as adjusting the brightness and contrast, changing the image to grey scale, adding drop shadows, and more even after the image has been inserted into your document.

Those who like to stylize their documents will be pleased by a few new additions .Word still has the text Effects button on the Home tab like Office 2007 that gives you presets plus custom effects. But, now you can add special effects such as glow, bevel, reflect and shadow to text. More sophisticated typography, such as using ligatures and small caps is also supported.

Microsoft Excel 2010

Excel hasn’t been worked upon as much as the other applications in Office 2010, but nevertheless it gets the same general improvements in the interface; the look is simpler and cleaner, you can add Recent files to the backstage menu like in Word and the print preview has been thoroughly improved and now lets you see the margins and zoom in-zoom out feature has been added to see the whole page or zoom in to read individual cells. The conditional formatting feature has also been overhauled, and new styles and icons have been added.

You can now access Excel spreadsheets from a browser without having Office installed on your system

One new feature in Excel is PowerPivot which lets you quickly scroll through millions of rows of data in seconds for large data sheets. Complicated charts render far faster than Excel 2007 (which introduced a powerful but slow new charting engine) although still not as fast as they used to do in 2003 (lesser functionality then, of course). Spread sheets now load and save more quickly (especially if you’re using the binary XLS format). Statistical functions in Excel have previously been notoriously inaccurate. But Excel 2010 has newly accurate statistical functions signed off for accuracy by professional number-crunchers.

If you use pivot tables, a new feature called “slices” makes it easier to explore the information; unlike having to turn columns and categories on and off in the task pane like in previous versions. With “Sparklines” that can be embedded in any worksheet, you can add instant visualizations to your data that give you a picture of what the numbers mean without creating a chart for every cell. You might take some time learning to exploit them, but these give you the kind of visualizations we’re getting used to seeing in Web 2.0 apps inside your spread sheet.

Microsoft PowerPoint 2010

The most useful addition to PowerPoint is the ability to broadcast a presentation online. Others can view it on their web browsers without having PowerPoint installed. There’s a set of basic video editing tools built directly into PowerPoint 2010. You can now embed videos directly from online video-sharing sites such as YouTube. Although you can apply video styles to an online vide, reflections, crops and rotations don’t work.

Quick Access Toolbar

You can now merge two presentations. PowerPoint 2010 is also a lot better at recovering unsaved files now, and you can recover previous versions of your current document and record your presentations as videos, a feature which was missing in both Office 2003 and Office 2007 and was continuously in demand.

Recording a slideshow as a video

OneNote 2010

OneNote is powered up and now boasts of a powerful “linked” notes feature that lets you work in any Word or Power- Point document, or while viewing pages in a browser, and create notes that are automatically linked to the document in the other application. It also finally gets the Ribbon interface, plus the advanced typographic features available in Word. Navigation through notebooks has also been improved. The search feature in OneNote has been augmented as well, as previously it was not particularly useful. You can now specify some advanced options as to whether to search on a page or in a section, group, individual notebook or all notebooks.

Earlier all the clipped information from web browsers, snapshots of the screen and the results of “Send to OneNote” used to go under the Unfiled Notes section, but now you can now pick which section to put that information in. You can even put multiple clips on the same page.

OneNote 2010 also makes it extremely easy to share notebooks and collaborate with other people in them. They can work in the same page; even at the same time if necessary. Whatever they add is highlighted and marked with their initials to remove confusion. There are a host of other small improvements like editing equations, and translation tools which work across multiple languages. OneNote 2010 also has excellent ink support.

Office Web Apps

The final major feature in the Office 2010 is the addition of Office Web Apps. Office Word App lets you create, edit, and save Word documents. Office PowerPoint App lets you create and edit presentations from the web. You can even pick themes and slide layouts. You can also insert animations, pictures, charts, and tables into existing Power- Point presentations. Office Excel web application allows you to create, edit and, save workbooks. You can even use the same formulas online like in the client version of the program. All these applications have inbuilt Auto-correct and background spell checking. Office Web App also encompasses Multi-user co-authoring. With all this, something very important is missing. There is no automatic synchronization of files between the Web-based version of Office and the client version. This can potentially be very confusing; you can end up with different versions of the some document in different locations on your PC and the web and simply not know which the latest version is.

You wouldn’t want to use Office Web Apps instead of a full desktop version given the choice but they’ll be great when you’re away from your home computer. And it is Microsoft’s first direct take at Google Docs.

Final Thoughts

The big question with any new version of Microsoft Office is not “how good is it?”. It is rather “Is it so much better that you should upgrade?”. It appears that Microsoft has made extensive usability improvements across the entire Office suite. This version of Office adds some very useful new features, such as Paste- Preview, a standardized Office-wide reliance on the Ribbon, Backstage View, Office Web Apps, video-editing tools in PowerPoint and much improved email handling in Outlook. Even performance wise, it seems a big improvement on Office 2003, and slightly so on Office 2007 and doesn’t have significant problems. Generally, the interface feels more polished and everything more accessible. This version of Office might not wow you, but the improvements are solid. While most of the normal people can likely do without any of these latest additions, somewhere there’s one of you who has been dying for each one of them. If you are still stuck on Office 2003, we would suggest you definitely want to board the train and go the Office 2010 way. For those of you using Office 2007, we would suggest to stick to it unless there’s some new feature that you desperately want.