The Microsoft Office 2010 technical preview is available today through invite only and--though it's not in its final form--there are plenty of feature enhancements to be excited about, if Microsoft can pull it off. According to Microsoft, the focus of this update was on three things: to make work flows more efficient; to effectively use Web applications to make your work available anywhere; and to make collaboration with others much easier. In this CNET First Take, we'll take a look at some of the notable feature changes across many of the applications. Microsoft says Office 2010 will let you use your PC, phone, and the Web to make your projects come together more efficiently. From what we've seen, they might be right and the Web applications might also give Google Docs a run for their money.
The Ribbon (introduced in Office 2007) continues to keep frequently used features handy at the top of your work space. But in Office 2010, you'll have access to the Ribbon across all of the applications in the suite, with contextual tabs and features to help you get the most out of each program. In Outlook 2010, for example, a Quick Steps section of the Ribbon has options to let you quickly create team meetings, move threads to specific folders, or custom forward messages (with premade subjects) to specific recipients. In Excel, you can flip through the tabs to access formulas, insert diagrams and charts, and quickly import data from connected sources. Having an easy way to access the most-used functions of each of the Office applications is very handy, and it's clear Microsoft did its research to make the most of each application's Ribbon.
It's also clear that Microsoft has paid attention to patterns across all of the applications to come up with easier ways to get things done. The new Paste Preview lets you easily switch between paste options so you know your work will be formatted correctly in your document before you commit. In Outlook, it's now possible to turn long e-mail threads into conversations, so you can quickly find information from specific participants without having to scroll through long, confusing threads. Another new feature lets you ignore entire threads including future e-mails on a subject so you can eliminate noise and distractions in your workday. Office 2010 includes many new time-saving features like these across the entire suite, but there's more than just tweaks to existing work flow.
Some of the flashier feature additions will be good news to those who work with media in their documents and presentations. PowerPoint now has options for editing video right within the program. You'll be able to trim video so your audience sees only the video content you want them to see. You also can add video effects, fades, and even create video triggers to launch animations during your presentation. When it's a static presentation you're working on--such as a publication, newsletter, or pamphlet--Office 2010 will let you edit and add effects to images so you won't need a third-party image editor. Microsoft has also added easy access to Ligatures and Stylistic Alternates to fonts in Publisher so you can add your own personal touches to your publications. Like most of the new features in Office 2010, you can find most of these added options in the Ribbon for that particular application.
As more of our data moves into the cloud, sharing and collaboration have become a major part of project execution, and Office 2010 will offer several options to help people work together. Though the Web-based components of the Office suite are not available in the technical preview, adding these options will make sharing information easier--whether it's from your home computer, your phone, or when you're traveling for business. Lightweight Web browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote have been announced, and, according to Microsoft, they will preserve the look and feel of a document regardless of the device you're working on--even if it's your smartphone.
New coauthoring in Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote and advanced e-mail management and calendaring capabilities in Outlook will make collaboration much easier, reducing the time it takes to finish large projects with several contributors. Businesses will be required to use Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 or Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services to gain access, but private users will be able to access their work using Windows Live. Obviously, we can't predict how well the Web components of each program will be implemented or how they will translate to different hardware, but offering access to shared documents in key business applications from anywhere is something any international business or business traveler can appreciate.
One of our favorite improvements to Office 2010 is what Microsoft calls the Backstage view. Offered as a replacement for the File menu, Backstage gives you a launching point to share documents, print out your work, set permissions, and other program specific options to get your project ready for distribution. You'll find all of the usual document management features, like open and save, here as well, but you'll also get a nice layout of templates for new documents, several different ways to share your work, and print settings and page layouts all in one place. We think people might initially be resistant to a new way of doing things (as is often the case), but once you get used to using the Backstage view for all of your file management, we think you'll find it useful and efficient to have access to everything in one place.
Microsoft Office 2010 will be released early next year and it appears Microsoft has made extensive usability improvements across the entire Office suite. We're told the Web components of Office applications will become available for testing later this year, so check back as more information becomes available.