Review: Office 2010 Technical Preview -- no 'wow,' just solid improvements

Now in Technical Preview, Office 2010 introduces a number of welcome features, particularly in Outlook and PowerPoint.

Microsoft Office 2010, as revealed by the just-released Technical Preview, brings a set of important if incremental improvements to the market-leading office suite.

Among them: making the Ribbon the default interface for all Office applications, adding a host of new features to individual applications such as video editing in PowerPoint and improved mail handling in Outlook and introducing a number of Office-wide productivity enhancers, including photo editing tools and a much-improved paste operation.

Missing from the Technical Preview is what will be the most important change to Office in years -- a Web-based version for both enterprises and consumers. Also missing from the preview is access to Office for mobile phones and other mobile clients. Those features will be introduced in later versions of the software; the final version is expected to ship in the first half of 2010.

This review will concentrate on what is present in the Technical Preview, not what is expected to arrive in future releases.

Global changes

Office 2007 introduced the Ribbon, a major change to Office's interface that replaced the old menus and submenus with a graphical system that groups buttons for common tasks together in tabs. But Microsoft didn't go whole hog with it back then; Outlook, among other applications, was not given the full Ribbon treatment.

The Ribbon takes center stage

In this version of Office, all applications now share the common Ribbon interface, including Outlook, OneNote and all other Office applications, and SharePoint. Love it or hate it, the Ribbon is here to stay.

new Office button
The new Office button

In addition, the Ribbon has been tweaked. The Office button in the upper-left corner of the screen has been redesigned; it's now a small, unobtrusive rectangle rather than a large circle.

Microsoft says that many people thought the circle was a branding icon, rather than a functional button that can be clicked on. The button has also been moved down slightly from its previous location at the very top of the screen.

basic Word 2010 screen

Word 2010 with the Home tab selected on the Ribbon.

Click to view larger image.
Backstage View

When you click the Office button, it brings up what Microsoft calls Backstage View. Backstage is essentially one-stop shopping for information about documents and common tasks you can perform, such as saving and printing files. It builds on, but goes well beyond, a similar feature in Office 2007.

Choosing Print from the menu on the left, for example, lets you preview your document before printing; you can also choose printer settings such as whether to print one-sided or collated, what margins to use, and so on.

Backstage View: printing options

Backstage View's Print section lets you preview documents and change printing options. Click to view larger image.

In many instances, features in the Backstage View were present in Office 2007, but hard to get at. In Backstage View, they're brought to one location. The Info tab in Backstage is particularly useful, giving you important information about your current file, such as the author and last time it was modified, and letting you review previous versions.

Backstage View: Info

Backstage View's Info section gives you important information about documents.

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