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.

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Paste Preview

Backstage View and the presence of the Ribbon in all applications are the most noticeable of the global changes to Office, but there are also other important ones.

One of them at first glance appears to be a minor change, but could prove to be one of the biggest productivity enhancers in Office 2010 -- an improvement to the humble copy-and-paste operation. This simple task has become more difficult to use and confusing over the years because of the many different types of content you can now copy and paste into Office applications, including mixed text and graphics, tables and other complex content.

Should you keep text only, for example, or should you keep the original formatting or the destination formatting, and which should be the default? With versions of Office before 2010, you'd make a decision, see the results, undo it and try another option.

In the new version of Office, such trial and error is a thing of the past, thanks to Paste Preview. When you paste in content, you can now preview how it will look depending on your paste choice, making it much less likely that you'll have to undo a paste operation.

Hover your mouse over each option, and you'll see the effect that using that option will have on the operation. When you see the option you want, simply make that choice. Paste Preview lets you set a default paste option as well.

Photo editing tools

Also enhanced in Office 2010 are the photo editing tools, accessible via the Ribbon. Select a photo or picture you've placed in a document, and a Format tab will appear with tools for editing images in a variety of ways, including sharpening or softening, changing the contrast and color saturation, cropping, eliminating the background, and adding a variety of "artistic effects."

In Office 2007, the tools available for doing this were rudimentary. You could change the brightness and contrast, for example, but without the same degree of control and visual feedback, and you couldn't remove backgrounds or add other effects.

picture tools

Office 2010 includes basic tools for editing pictures and photos.

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Communications, 64-bit version

Microsoft has also strengthened the links between Office and various Microsoft communication server products. If you use Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2 with Office 2010, you'll be able to see the availability status of other people with whom you work and ways to contact them, such as e-mail and instant messaging.

SharePoint is even more intimately tied to Office, and lets people collaborate on Office documents.

One final overall note: Office is now available in a 64-bit version as well.

A look at the new Outlook

If you live in e-mail (and who doesn't?), you'll most likely be pleased with the new version of Outlook, which adds a variety of features designed to help solve the most common productivity problem -- e-mail overload.

And, as noted above, the Outlook interface has changed radically, with the addition of the full-blown Ribbon. This puts most functions within easy reach -- functions that previously you might have had to navigate through several sets of menus to find. Ribbon-haters will not be pleased, although the rest of us will welcome it.

Apart from the addition of the Ribbon, Outlook's overall interface remains the same, with the same paned layout.

Faster mail handling

One of the most useful new features is called Quick Steps, which speeds up mail handling considerably. Right-click on a message, and you can choose from a variety of actions to take on it -- moving the message to a specific folder, forwarding it to your manager, setting up a team meeting with its recipients, sending e-mail to an entire team and so on.

Outlook Quick Steps

Quick Steps give you fast access to common actions you perform on a message.

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You can easily add new items to the Quick Steps menu by choosing from a set of predefined Quick Steps or by creating your own using a wizard-like interface. You can also delete existing items or edit the items.

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