Dissecting Microsoft Office 2010

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Be aware that your existing Outlook add-ins may not work with this version of Outlook. Google's Calendar Sync, which synchronizes your Google Calendar and Outlook calendar, won't work in Office 2010. I'm hoping Google will release a new version that fixes the problem.

The word on Word

Word hasn't changed drastically in Office 2010 -- and this should come as no surprise, considering that it's already overstuffed with features that most people don't use. There's simply not that much left to add that Word doesn't already have.

That being said, there is one very useful addition: the Navigation Pane (formerly called the Document Map in Office 2007).

The Navigation Pane is composed of three parts. One displays the organization of a document by headings and lets you quickly jump to any section. Another shows thumbnails of each page. And the third, the search pane, is a powered-up search tool, showing your search results in context. You can also search through tables, charts and other material.

There are also useful new features for those who care about the appearance of their documents, including new text effects, picture-editing tools and graphics-handling tools.

Text effects let you add graphic effects -- gradient fills, shadows, glows and so on -- to text. What's nifty is that, unlike WordArt from the previous Word versions, the text stays as actual text rather than being turned into a graphic image, so you can still spell-check it. Font fiends will also appreciate new typographic capabilities that allow for fancier fonts and sophisticated typographic elements, such as ligatures and small caps.

There are a variety of new picture-editing tools for quick-and-dirty graphics editing, including ones that handle color saturation, sharpening and more. The Screen Clipping option allows you to take a screenshot anywhere in Windows and insert it into your document. It also shows you a list of all of the screenshots you've taken, including those taken from other programs -- which can be popped into Word documents as well.

What's new in Excel

Excel, like Word, has gotten a number of nice tweaks -- but as with Word, don't expect to be bowled over by them. If Outlook 2010 is Outlook 2007 on steroids, Word and Excel 2010 are Word and Excel 2007 on multivitamins.

Most useful are what are called "Sparklines," cell-sized charts that can be embedded in worksheets to give visual representations of data. For example, if you're creating a stock-tracking spreadsheet, you could create a Sparkline for each stock to graph its performance over time and display it in a nifty, simple-to-digest manner.

Other useful tools for displaying data are "slicers" -- built-in applets that let you easily filter and display information and allow you to create dashboards that can track many pieces of data visually. And for data hounds, a downloadable add-on for Excel called "Project Gemini" can handle massive amounts of data, including worksheets with hundreds of millions of rows. Without it, Excel would choke on that amount of data and not be able to load and analyze it.

Also new are improvements to conditional formatting, which is the ability to apply a format to a range of cells and have the formatting change according to the value of the cell or formula.

PowerPoint: Video tools and remote presentations

PowerPoint, like Outlook, has gotten a significant upgrade in this new version of Office, and Microsoft has done an excellent job of focusing on those areas that are of the most use to people today -- video handling and Web-based presentations.

The new Broadcast Slide Show tool will likely be the most-used new feature of PowerPoint. It offers a simple way to share a presentation over the Web on an ad hoc basis with as many people as you want.

To use it, create your presentation as you would normally, then select Broadcast Slide Show from the Slide Show Ribbon menu. PowerPoint then uses Microsoft's free PowerPoint Broadcast Service to let you play your presentation over the Web. A Web link is created that you can send to one or many recipients, who can then watch the presentation by going to the URL. You can also send out invitations to the broadcast from within PowerPoint. There's no planning required, no scheduling and no cost -- it's all free.

You don't get audio and you don't get any kind of instant messaging with this feature. But I've been in countless Web conferences, and I can't recall a single one in the last year in which anyone used instant messaging. And at every one of them, I had to use a phone line for audio. So for most presentations, those features won't be missed. I expect this feature to make the number of presentations given over the Web skyrocket.

The other big news for PowerPoint is its entrance into the video age. PowerPoint 2007 had fairly rudimentary video capabilities; in 2010 that's changed dramatically. You won't use PowerPoint's new video-editing tools for professional-level editing -- they're geared for the most common tasks people perform when working with videos, such as trimming, compressing, adding fade-ins and fade-outs, correcting for color and contrast, and similar tasks.

You're also given control over the visual appearance of the frame in which the video appears, how long the video should last and more. To use the tools, you first embed a video in a presentation, then highlight it -- the new tools appear on the Ribbon.

PowerPoint also makes it easy to embed videos from YouTube or other Web sites. Once you have the code for embedding the video (on YouTube, for example, if you click the Embed button you'll see all the code), paste the code into PowerPoint, and the video should play as part of your presentation.

You may need to do some tweaking to get this feature to work properly. I couldn't get a YouTube video to play in PowerPoint until I took out the part of the code that determined the video's size on the screen, then PowerPoint played it without a hitch.

PowerPoint adds tools not just for adding and editing videos, but for playing them during your presentation as well. You can now pause, rewind, fast-forward and so on.

This new version of PowerPoint also adds some nice new animations. They're more easily accessible, and there are more of them. Editing them is simpler using a custom animation feature. One of my favorite features is the Animation Painter, which will apply any animation across multiple slides without requiring the user to add the animation to each slide individually.

Also, as is the case with Word, you can add screenshots to presentations with the new screenshot tool. And there are some other nice additions, such as new slide transitions and additional SmartArt graphics and themes.

Other changes

There's plenty more in the new Office as well.

One notable change is that OneNote is now part of the basic Office suite. I've been using OneNote for years, and have long thought that it's one of the great undiscovered apps. Now everyone can discover it.

Think of OneNote as an electronic notebook for organizing multiple projects and large amounts of material. You can link to data on your computer or the Web, record audio or video from within it, capture information from the Web and more. OneNote 2010, like other Office apps, gets the full Ribbon treatment.

The humble copy-and-paste operation has also been given a makeover. Copy and paste has become surprisingly confounding to use over time because of the increasingly complex content you can paste into Office applications, such as rich text, graphics, mixed text and graphics, tables and so on.

For example, should you keep the original text formatting when you paste text from a Web site, or use the formatting in the document? In previous versions of Office, you had to make a decision -- then if you didn't like it, undo it and try again.

Paste Preview, new in Office 2010, solves the problem. When you paste something into a document, a small icon of a clipboard appears next to it, with a downward-facing triangle. Click the triangle and you will see paste options, including keeping the source formatting, keeping only the text, or merging the source formatting with the formatting in your document. Hover your mouse over each paste option and you can preview how the pasted text will appear.

Office 2010 also adds new image-editing tools to all Office apps. Select an image in a document and the Picture Tools tab appears on the Ribbon, offering a variety of editing tools, including ones for sharpening or softening, changing the contrast and color saturation, cropping, eliminating the background and adding a variety of artistic effects. Previous Office image-editing tools were crude in comparison.

Microsoft has also improved links between Office and Microsoft communication server products, including SharePoint, Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2. With them, you'll be able to view the availability status of people with whom you work, and you'll be given ways to contact them, such as e-mail and instant messaging.

Office is now available in a 64-bit version. Pricing has also been changed, with upgrade discounts eliminated. Here's a look at the options:

* Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010 ($149) includes the core applications of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. It can be used on three PCs in a home, but it can't be used by businesses or government organizations.

* Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010 ($279) adds Outlook.

* Microsoft Office Professional 2010 ($499) includes the four core applications plus Outlook, Publisher and Access.

* Microsoft Office Professional Academic 2010 ($99) includes the same applications as Office Professional 2010 but is available only to those with a .edu e-mail address, and it's sold only via academic resellers.

* Microsoft Office Standard 2010 includes the four core applications plus Outlook. It's available only via volume licensing.

* Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010, available only via volume licensing deals, includes the four core applications plus Outlook, Publisher, Access, SharePoint Workspace (formerly called Groove), Communicate and InfoPath.

The bottom line

The changes to Outlook alone make this new version of Office well worth the price. Outlook's new tools for cutting through e-mail overload and its partial integration with social networking sites make the new version a must-have for anyone who spends a significant amount of time on e-mail.

Presentation jockeys will also want the new PowerPoint tools, notably the ability to give free Web-based presentations and take advantage of better video handling.

The improved Ribbon and other global changes such as Paste Preview are useful, if not dramatic, additions. If you mainly use Word and Excel, you might think twice about paying to upgrade or buying the suite for the first time. But if you need to get a better handle on e-mail or want to create better presentations, buying the new version of Office is a no-brainer.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor to Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

This story, "Dissecting Microsoft Office 2010" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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