Dissecting Microsoft Office 2010

The shipping version of Microsoft's latest office suite offers some exciting new changes, including a vastly improved Outlook.

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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.

Microsoft Office 2010

Paste Preview shows your paste options.

Click to view larger image.

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.

Microsoft Office 2010

One of Office's image-editing tools.

Click to view larger image.

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).

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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