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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Better message threading

This new version of Outlook also tackles one of Outlook's perennial problems -- how poorly it follows threads of messages. In previous versions, the interface for doing this was confusing, so much so that most people I know, including me, rarely used it.

In this version, following a thread is exceedingly easy. Right-click on an e-mail and select Find Related --> Messages in this Conversation, and you'll see a view of all messages in the conversation that can easily be followed, collapsed or expanded. You can also choose to arrange all your mail by conversations, using the Conversation View.

The ability to follow threads may seem a small thing, but it's one of those small touches added in this version of Office that should pay big dividends in increased productivity.

There's a related feature that helps cut down on e-mail clutter -- the ability to "clean up" a conversation. When you do this, you delete all of the unnecessary quoted and previous text in long e-mail threads; only unduplicated versions remain.

However, once you do that, all of the quoted and previous text and e-mails are actually deleted, not just hidden, so use this feature carefully. It would be more useful if you were given the option of hiding the text, not completely deleting it.

Also of note

Microsoft also says that Outlook now includes Mail Tips that warn you against sending out e-mails that you perhaps shouldn't send. So, for example, if you're sending a message to too large a group so that it seems as if it's spam, or if you're sending mail to someone who is out of the office, or if you're sending an e-mail to external parties and doing so might compromise confidential information, you'll be warned.

It works only with Exchange, so I could not test this feature.

There's one thing that didn't change in this version of Outlook that many people probably wish had -- the exclusive use of Word as your e-mail text editor. Before Outlook 2007, you had the choice of using Word or the Internet Explorer rendering engine for creating and displaying e-mails composed in HTML.

In Outlook 2007, it became all Word all the time, and in Outlook 2010 that remains unchanged. Some people complain that Word doesn't handle HTML rendering as well as IE.

One important feature that this version of Outlook doesn't have that it should is integration with social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. There is, however, a free, third-party Outlook 2003/2007 add-in called Xobni that grabs information from those sites about people with whom you correspond, so that you can get a great deal of information about people with whom you're communicating, right within Outlook.

A Xobni representative said the add-on will be updated to work with Outlook 2010 by the time it ships next year. Don't be surprised if Microsoft adds a feature like this in a later version of Outlook.

Minor, but useful, changes to Word

Word's new search interface

Word's new search interface.

Click to view larger image.

Word hasn't received nearly as significant changes as has Outlook. But there are some tweaks.

Search has gotten a nice boost with a set of features that let you search charts, tables, footnotes and other content. The search interface has changed as well. It now opens as a left-hand pane, with options for narrowing the search. It also displays a navigable map of thumbnails of your document.

Those who like to pretty up documents will be pleased by a few new additions. You can now add special effects such as bevel, glow, reflect and shadow to text. There's also support for more sophisticated typography, such as using ligatures and small caps.

Adding text effects

Adding text effects.

Click to view larger image.

Also new is a tool that lets you take screenshots and insert them into Word documents. From the Insert tab, select Screenshot, and you'll see a list of screenshots you've already taken, even if they've been taken with a different program. You can then insert any of them into Word. In addition, you can select the Screen Clipping option, which allows you to take a screenshot anywhere in Windows and insert it into your document.

Document sharing has also been enhanced, with multiple people able to work on a document simultaneously online, although I was not able to test that feature. There are other, smaller enhancements as well. But overall, Word 2010 isn't much different from Word 2007.

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