|Service and Support|
|Setup and Interface|
Microsoft Office is a suite of business programs such as its word processor: Word; spreadsheet: Excel; presentation manager: PowerPoint; email manager: Outlook; database: Access; and so on. This is my review of the main modules of Microsoft Office 2010 Professional Plus.
I was on a Microsoft beta program, so I received an invitation to download the Office 2010 Pro Plus edition, which is only sold to volume licensees. For this wider audience, I will focus on the consumer applications you get with the retail edition (Office 2010 Professional).
I downloaded the software and applied the product key, which has two activations. I upgraded my copy of Office 2007 (rather than doing a clean installation, which is preferred). I didn’t want to go through the hassle of exporting the Outlook email accounts. No problems noted, phew!
Several improvements affect several of the Office applications. For example, SmartArt Graphics works in most of the applications, including Outlook. It enables you to create impressive visual effects without needing a graphic artist in the team. In particular, our corporate PowerPoint presentations won’t consist of boring bulleted lists and the audience will pay attention.
Remember how hard it was for some people to send you a screenshot? You might get a whole Word document containing a picture of someone’s entire Windows desktop. I used the free program IrfanView to manage screen captures, but now Office has the Screenshot feature built in. The drop-down menu shows thumbnails of all open windows. You can select one and, if required, you can crop the image to select only the area of interest.
The email application Microsoft Outlook is not to be confused with the low-end Outlook Express, which was bundled with Windows XP and earlier operating systems. I have been a fan since its first release, largely because it works with other (non-Microsoft) applications and particularly because it works with mobile phones and PDAs. I have not needed to carry a paper appointments diary for over 10 years and my telephone/address list syncs nicely with my Apple iPhone.
The layout of Outlook has improved in small ways. The Deleted Items folder has been dropped to the bottom, whereas it used to be at the top of the folder tree. Ditto Drafts. Navigation now gets the “ribbon” menu to bring it line with the rest of the Office suite.
Social media connections are now built in, with the Outlook Social Connector, given that websites such as LinkedIn are now synonymous with business relationships. When you get an email from someone who is on LinkedIn.com, their summarised information is shown at the bottom of the preview pane. You can also enable Facebook, MySpace and so on.
Another benefit, if you have Exchange Server 2010, is that voicemail can be transcribed automatically and a voice-to-text transcript is sent to you in your Inbox. If you have lots of people chasing you, this can help you choose which voicemails to hear first.
When you are in an Exchange environment and are about to send an email to a large distribution list, you may see MailTips above the “From” field informing you that some people have set an Out of Office notification. If that is relevant to you, you can do something if urgent, e.g. call them instead of waiting for them to return to the office and reply.
Forget the good old Tools > Options menus. There is no Tools option. You need to use File to reach those options. For example, File > Info > Add Account to add an email account. Ditto for Manage Rules & Alerts.
I found that my old rules could have a problem. I get a lot of email that I prefer to route to their own folders upon arrival and each ends with a “Stop processing more rules” command – in this edition, this is a problem, for you get a warning when you try to save a new rule: “This rule has a condition that the server cannot process. The action ‘stop processing more rules’ will prevent all remaining server rules from being carried out. Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
The intention is that you don’t want your subsequent rules to process the same message, but there was no warning in the past. In other words, if I have a rule that all emails from example.com should be moved to the example.com folder, my subsequent rules, e.g. one dealing with certain words in the body, will not be applied to those emails.
Mobile devices are now supported. You can send or receive an SMS in Outlook. A calendar summary and reminders can be sent to a mobile. Important emails can be sent to a mobile. This requires signing up with a third-party mobile service provider. I use Optus, so I get a choice of six such companies.
A new feature is Quick Steps, where you can turn an often-used sequence of tasks into a single click. For example, “Reply & Delete” would suit someone with a large inbox and who doesn’t like the clutter of old emails on their PC. Others could create a “Reply & Move” sequence to place all answered emails into another folder.
You can group long email threads into Conversations and view them in collapsed or expanded views. This has some smarts included. For instance, I was coming into an existing thread and when I replied to the earliest message, I was warned that there were subsequent messages. Silly me. The thread had gone off-topic and I was responding to the original topic.
Corporate users sometimes share their calendars with peers and subordinates so that their public appointments are visible and someone can pull them out of a meeting or urge them to come to a different one that occurs at the same time.
Word has had some new features too. Collaboration has become easier for those who work with other authors in an online setting. This is also the case for Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint. The document can be placed in the cloud on Windows Live SkyDrive.
The Print Preview page has been combined with the Page Layout dialog in older editions, as you often needed to access both menus to organise the print settings.
WordArt is no longer a graphic image in a separate box. You can select text and via the fuzzy blue “A” icon you can choose any fancy effect you wish.
Many improvements in the Graphics tools remove the need to use an external program. The Remove Background tool can quickly identify the “background” surrounding the selected area and highlight it for your approval to remove. For example, I was able to select the suitcase from the product box shot within seconds. The size of images can be reduced, to keep the overall file size down.
I often paste from other programs into Word and previously had to choose Paste Special > Unformatted Text each time. Now I can set the default paste behaviour for several types of documents.
The 64-bit edition of Office enables Excel users to load much larger files (more than 1 million rows or coumns) than do 32-bit users (although I caution that the 64-bit version may have some features elsewhere, as in Outlook, that don’t work or are problematic). They can also go to http://powerpivot.com/ and download SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel, which helps with business intelligence tasks involving analysis of large data sets.
Another change that caught my eye is the Sparkline graph, which enables you to show a tiny graph within a cell for a specific row. You can just see it at the top right of the image above.
For me the most valuable feature is Broadcast Slide Show, which will appeal to business users who have to show a slide pack remotely. This free service uses Windows Live to host the slides and gives you a URL to share with the audience. As you go through the slides, they see the new slides at the same time. For the audio you would use a normal telephone conference number or something like Skype. This feature will put a dent in the revenues of online conferencing providers. When you end the broadcast, the link can no longer be used to access your material.
If you like to animate effects such as flying text, you will like to use the Animation Painter, which enables you to copy the effects to a subsequent slide.
Microsoft has reduced the number of Office 2010 SKUs, making it easier for us to buy. Unfortunately, there is no upgrade version.
In addition to boxed editions, you can also buy just the product key for a copy that has been pre-loaded onto a new PC. This is much more efficient than having to think about whether you should uninstall a demo version after you bought a full copy of the application in the past.
Be careful about the cheaper versions – they allow only a single activation, whereas the business editions allow two – one for your desktop and one for your laptop. For more information, visit http://www.microsoft.com/office/2010
For some years Microsoft has operated the ItsNotCheating.com.au site where a university student in Australia could buy Office 2007 Ultimate for AU$75. That site has been updated to reflect Office Professional Academic 2010 for AU$99. You can get it even cheaper, legally, if you work in a large company that has arranged for staff to buy through the Microsoft Home Use Program. You need an email address at that company to comply. At my current company I can buy Office Professional Plus 2010, Visio Premium 2010, Project Professional Plus 2010 or Office 2008 for the Mac each at AU$15! Some time ago, school teachers could also buy at this price and this may still be the case.
Yes, there is a free Home and Student version of Office 2010 but it’s online and called Microsoft Web Apps. You have to download the beta version at http://tinyurl.com/yho9lgh before you can use it on the SkyDrive. You use a web browser to access it. The free version lacks a few important features such as charting in Excel or reviewing in Word. You can’t insert a video in PowerPoint.
Business users licensed for Microsoft Office 2010 through a Volume Licensing program can run Office Web Apps on-premises on a server running Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 or Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.
I did not have time to explore Access 2010, OneNote 2010 and Publisher 2010, and hope to write about them at a later date.
I am a great fan of Office and use it at work and home, so I have not been attracted to free alternatives elsewhere. The Professional edition does not have some programs available in the Professional Plus such as Infopath Designer 2010, InfoPath Filler 2010, and SharePoint Workspace 2010. Small business owners will probably be satisfied with the Professional version, which will sell around AU$683 (but much cheaper in the US).
This edition is a delight to use and has given me no trouble on three Windows 7 and Windows Vista machines. You should check it out!