Though it’s hard to think of a new feature as controversial and slow to catch on as the “ribbon” interface introduced in Office 2007, Microsoft has stuck to its guns and integrated the concept into Outlook, as well. The company has, however, evidently taken the extensive user criticism to heart and made numerous improvements.
For instance, the tried-and-true “File” menu has made its return. It enables users to access Office 2010’s “Backstage” view, which contains key functions such as “Save” and “Print.” The interface’s individual ribbons can also be adjusted to meet specific preferences.
The other Office applications have only seen minor improvements. Of particular note is the incremental search function in Microsoft Word, which displays every instance found – along with its context – in a preview sidebar. Microsoft Excel users, meanwhile, will be excited to start using “sparklines” – tiny graphics that display the progression of data streams in diagrams. Unlike conventional Excel diagrams, users can integrate sparklines into rows to achieve better clarity.
While it does not come close to offering the functional diversity of products like Cyberlink PowerProducer and Adobe Premiere Pro, Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 now supports enough audio and video editing to enable users to shorten videos, for example, without additional programs. Each of the new Office applications can also work with images much better than before: With just a few mouse-clicks, users can crop pictures, apply graphical filters, or add a 3D effect. In many cases, this eliminates the need for an extra image-processing program.
Office in the cloud
With Office 2010, Microsoft is seeking to bring its customers a software suite they can use anywhere – whether on desktop computers, smartphones, or applications in the cloud. To make this possible regardless of the user’s location, Office 2010 supports fixed integration of Windows Live SkyDrive, a Microsoft service that offers 25 free gigabytes of online storage.
In addition, Microsoft has made available Web versions of four of its applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These online applications – which support every popular browser, not just Internet Explorer – are free for anyone interested to use and only require a Windows Live account. While Web users will have to make some concessions in terms of functional scope, Microsoft’s cloud offerings do contain all of the key components needed to get real work done on letters, spreadsheets, and presentations while on the move.
According to Ralph Haupter, the new head of Microsoft Germany, a virtually unlimited number of users can work on online documents at the same time; connection bandwidth is the only limiting factor. The corresponding data is updated in real time, making it possible to track changes as they are made. All those currently working on a document are constantly displayed at the bottom-right of each user’s browser.
Integrated social networks
Meanwhile, Microsoft is keeping pace with the times by integrating social networks into Outlook 2010. The application’s Social Connector, for example, incorporates status updates from contacts on Facebook and other communities. By the end of June, Outlook will also be able to interface with Xing, a social network popular in the German-speaking countries. Microsoft offers an online overview of the services Outlook currently supports.
As we reported in our first article on the subject, “Office 2010 – SAP Gives the Go-Ahead,” the latest version of Microsoft’s suite is the first to be available in 64-bit form. This version is mainly of interest to users who have to contend with huge Excel files (more than 2GB in size). The 32-bit variant seems to be the better choice for everyone else, as its 64-bit counterpart does not support the majority of Office 2010 plug-ins – including one that integrates the SAP GUI into Outlook, to name a prominent example.