Microsoft's flagship desktop suite comes packed with modest, albeit worthwhile, enhancements to core Office capabilities, while breaking significant new ground by pushing Office apps beyond the bounds of the Windows desktop into rich, Web-based versions that perform as well on Firefox and Safari browsers as on Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
an Office 2007 release packed with file format and interface overhauls that
many users and organizations found
challenging to digest, Microsoft returns to a smaller, more familiar-size
release with Office 2010, which became available earlier this month for volume
license customers, and is set to hit retail next week.
As with most other Office
releases, the 2010 version introduces plenty of enticements for upgraders: new
features for producing slick-looking documents, spreadsheets and presentations;
interface tweaks for surfacing and, in some places, tamping down the
slicker-output features from previous releases; and more hooks into SharePoint
Server 2010, which shipped alongside Office 2010, for more tightly knitting
For instance, the biggest
interface tweak in Office 2010 is probably the addition of a "backstage area"
to replace what had been the "File" menu drop-down in earlier versions of
Office. In each application in the suite, these backstage areas house
"meta document" options, such as those for saving, opening, printing
or exporting. In Outlook, the backstage area contains account and folder
settings, alongside import and export options. In PowerPoint, I visited the
backstage area of a presentation with embedded video to shrink the size of my
video for different sorts of distribution.
Another relatively mundane
but useful set of enhancements in Office 2010 revolve around cutting and
pasting. In response to research that indicated that the most common action
that users take after pasting a chunk of content into an Office document is
hitting the undo button, the team added new pre- and post-paste features,
housed in context-sensitive Smart Tags, for reducing the need to hit undo. For
instance, in Excel, I entered the number 1 in the first cell of a spreadsheet
column, grabbed the corner of the cell with my mouse, and dragged down 30 or so
rows. Excel filled each cell in the set with a 1, and spawned a Smart Tag to
ask if I'd intended to fill the cells with a series of numbers-1, 2, 3 and so
Modest enhancements and
interface tweaks aside, Office 2010 is a major release, if not for the way it
churns up existing components than for the way it expands Office onto new
platforms and devices. Office 2010 marks the debut of a slate of Web-based
Office applications that are available in hosted, on premises or free,
ad-supported forms. What's more, these applications boast uncharacteristically
broad support for non-Microsoft products-the apps support Mozilla's Firefox,
Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome Web browsers nearly as well as Microsoft's
own Internet Explorer.
As they stand now, the Web
apps are much thinner in terms of features and extensibility that the
better-established Web app offerings from Google and Zoho. Feature limitations
aside, at sites that store documents on a SharePoint 2010 server, I can imagine
the Office Web Apps seeing frequent use for previewing documents and carrying
out minor edits. Even if broadened Web access options and more
SharePoint-orchestrated collaboration choices aren't the driver for upgrading
to 2010, I imagine that most Office users will find items out of those handsome
and handy categories to like in the new release.
Moving forward, I'll be
interested to see how Microsoft moves forward adding new features and
improvements to its Web Apps. In particular, I'll be paying attention
well the company handles the challenge of rolling out improvement not
the Web Apps instances Microsoft hosts itself, but also on the various
on-premises installations of its Office and SharePoint customers.
Office 2010 will be
available at retail in a number of different editions, including Home and
Student, Home and Business, and Professional editions, priced at between $150
and $500. Microsoft has done away with the upgrade pricing discounts that were
available for Office 2007 and previous versions of the suite. For volume
license customers, Office 2010 is available in Standard and Professional Plus
editions. The Standard edition includes Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint,
OneNote, and Publisher, as well as access to Office Web Apps. The Professional
Plus edition adds SharePoint Workspace (formerly known as Groove), InfoPath
and Microsoft Communicator. For more information on Office 2010 editions and
pricing, see: http://office2010.microsoft.com/en-us/buy/office-2010-pricing-information-HA101810737.aspx.
I conducted most of my
Office 2010 tests on virtual machines with between 1 and 2 GB of RAM running the 64-bit version of
Windows 7, or the 32-bit version of Windows XP SP3. Office 2010 ran happily on
every configuration I tested. I tested the Office Web Apps from Internet
Explorer 8 running on Windows 7 and Windows XP SP3, as well as from Google
Chrome and Mozilla Firefox running on the Ubuntu 10.04 and Fedora 13 Linux
distributions. I tested the Office Web Apps hosted from a SharePoint Server
2010 instance running in our lab, and from a beta version of Microsoft's Office
Office 2010 is the first
version of the suite to be available in 64-bit, as well as 32-bit versions. The
suite installs its 32-bit version by default, whether or not you're running a
64-bit operating system. I didn't test the 64-bit versions of the applications.
The aspect of the Office
2010 release that's most fascinated me is the extension of thesuite to
include Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Office 2010
isn't the first version of the suite to reach out to the Web, but it is the
first release to enable users to get at least some of their Office work done
through a Web browser. What's more, aswith the version of Outlook Web
Access that ships with Exchange 2010, the new Office Web Apps are designed to
run well not only on the Windows-only Internet Explorer, but on the cross-platform
friendly Firefox, Safari and Chrome browsers.
After testing the Office Web
Apps in their in-development and final versions over the past several months,
I'd say that the while Apps are off to a solid start in these areas of
usefulness and cross-platform support, there's still plenty of work to be done
before they catch up to the better-established office Web application offerings
from Google and Zoho. Basic features such as a word count function in Word are
missing, and the Office Web Apps offer a much narrower range of file format
options than either Google and Zoho or the full-sized Office applications.
With that said, the Office
Web Apps do shine rather brightly for their handling of Office's default file
formats. The Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents I tested with rendered well
in my test browsers, offering the best route I've seen for viewing an Office
document as intended without having a copy of Office installed. In addition,
the print function in the Web Apps does an excellent job converting Office
documents to PDF format.
I tested the Office Web Apps
from a SharePoint Server 2010 instance running in our lab, and from a test
version of Microsoft's Windows Live service. From Windows Live, I found new
options for creating, editing and viewing Office documents using Office Web
Apps. I could start by uploading an existing document or starting a new one. On
our SharePoint, I couldn't figure out how to create a new document from
scratch-the New Document options I found in SharePoint directed me only to a
file upload function.
I uploaded a Word document
stored in the binary .DOC format to our SharePoint instance, and could readily view it from my
browser. When I opted to "edit in browser," the server alerted me that it would
have to convert my document to the newer, .DOCX format in order for
me to edit it. The same went for dealing with PowerPoint and Excel documents
stored in the earlier format. I uploaded a different document stored in the
OpenDocument Format-the default format for OpenOffice.org, which Office 2010
does support-but found that there was no way to view, edit or convert the ODF
document from Office Web Apps.
Once I'd opened my test Word
document for viewing, the Word Web App promised improved performance and
rendering if I installed Silverlight, which I did while testing with Internet
Explorer 8. The Silverlight plugin delivered its promised performance
improvements while zooming in and out of the documents I viewed. Without the
plugin, zoomed-in documents appeared somewhat jagged-looking.
In my tests with Firefox on
Linux, I installed Novell's Moonlight plug-in in an attempt to partake in the
promised Silverlight goodness, but the plug-in prevented me from viewing these
documents at all. In tests with a previous version of the Web Apps, the
presence of the plug-in seemed to have no effect at all, so this is one area
where cross-platform support has actually backslid. I had to uninstall the
plug-in to get back in business.
With the Silverlight detour
behind me, I found that my test document rendered rather nicely in both Firefox
and IE. I was able to scroll through my documents with ease, with new pages
loading promptly as I moved through the document. Links embedded in my test
document, such as those in the table of contents, worked as I expected, and I
could zoom in and out of the document in more or less the same way as with the
desktop-based version of Word. Also, I was pleased to see that the Web version
of Word mimics well the handy sidebar-based document search feature that's new
to Word 2010.
Each of the Office Web Apps
offered an option for opening the current document directly in its full-sized
Office application, but this feature only works on Internet Explorer and
Windows. According to Microsoft, the online office applications use WebDAV
(Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) as the underlying protocol for
this integration, so such a connection should be possible. While testing on
Linux, I was able to work around the issues by downloading my test documents,
editing them in OpenOffice.org, and then uploading the files back to the Web or
My experiences testing with
the Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote Web Apps were similar to what I found with
Word-in each case, I could view binary-formatted Office documents with good
fidelity, but I had to convert to the newer formats for editing.
As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.