Many document- and presentation-building tasks for which Office users tap Word and PowerPoint involve pictures and video. Office 2010 stands to make these tasks a bit easier with an assortment of new multimedia features. PowerPoint and Word both have an option embedded in their Ribbons for inserting screenshots of active windows into documents or presentations. Choosing this option spawned a dialog with thumbnails of all the open windows on my test machine. I could choose to insert these thumbnails into my document or presentation. I could also grab new screen clippings to insert, but I had to make sure that the window from which I wished to clip was the one I was viewing just before focusing on the Word or PowerPoint window. I found it easier to select a whole window and do my cropping as a second step.In addition, PowerPoint has gained the ability to trim embedded videos down to size with fairly easy-to-use controls. The application offered the option of embedding Web-hosted videos, but I had trouble getting this feature to work with the YouTube video that I tried out during my test. I was happy to see that PowerPoint now includes Windows Media Video as an output format--previously, exporting presentations to video required a separate plug-in. I'd like to see PowerPoint join OpenOffice.org Impress in adopting Adobe's SWF as an export format, as well. During my tests, I had a bit of fun with PowerPoint 2010's new image manipulation capabilities, which include a nifty new Background Removal tool. I was able to click on a person in the foreground area of an image and direct Word to swap out my picture's background for a transparent one. Then, I managed to add a drop shadow to my image with another click. Access Users who prize Access as a tool for roughing out database-backed applications will find a handful of welcome improvements in the 2010 version of Office. I began putting Access through its paces by selecting one of the template applications offered up from the tool's start page. The first thing I noticed about the new database app I created was an information bar across the top of its interface, alerting me of blocked active content. By now, macro-blocking has become a very familiar part of Office applications, and the experience that the Office team has accrued while dodging malware writers really shows in the interfaces around trust management. For example, I was pleased to find that clicking for more information on the blocked-content notice did not call forth a dialog box with tough-to-relocate information. Rather, I was sent to the Backstage area for Access-the landing page for meta-document operations and information-where I could read what Access had to say about the active content and then decide whether to enable the content, knowing exactly where to find that information when I was ready to act on it. I opted to mark the database as a trusted document, which cleared the way for the active content. I noticed, however, that when I e-mailed the database to myself for testing on a different machine, the trusted status did not carry over to the second machine. I had to mark the document as trusted again. I also could have configured a trusted location and ferried the database from one machine to the other through that trusted channel. This document trust scheme appears in other components across Office. The application template I'd selected was for a project management application, with tables and interface forms for users and tasks, among other things. I was interested to see that both the user and task components of the template were available for easy use in other applications in the form of Application Parts, available under the Create tab of the Access ribbon. Access 2010 now supports triggers-database operations that can be scripted to occur, for instance, when records are inserted into a database. In Access, this feature is called Data Macros. Along similar lines, I was pleased to see that Access now supports calculated fields, derived from other fields in a record. Outlook When Microsoft rolled out its new Ribbon UI in Office 2007, Outlook was left Ribbon-free. In Office 2010, Outlook has joined its officemates in taking on the new UI. Outlook, along with all of Office's other components, offers the option Ribbon customization-I could add any of the application's functions to the Outlook Ribbon. In some parts of Office, the Ribbon customization option served as a window into long-ignored but not quite dead Office features. For instance, in Outlook, I tricked out my Ribbon with a new custom group (I called it "Graveyard") and populated it with the command, "Windows CE Inbox Transfer." Along similar lines, Outlook 2010 picks up its own version of the backstage view, and, through its integration with Word as an editor, partakes in all the same paste preview and image editing features that Office's word processor and presentation applications now offer. Elsewhere, Outlook picks up a nifty new calendar preview feature, which I used to survey potential appointment conflicts while reading meeting request messages. Also on the theme of teasing out additional information from inbox messages is Outlook's social connector feature, which, for a given message, offers additional information about the message sender and recipients. By default, I could see a list of recent messages passed between me and a particular contact, along with information from the company directory. I could extend the available information by connecting to SharePoint or to outside social networks. At the time I tested, MySpace and LinkedIn were the only social network options, but support for additional networks is on the way. Another notable new Outlook feature is a sort of quick rule-making interface called Quick Steps, which offers up some common multistep processes, such as forwarding to one's manager or responding and deleting the original message, as well as a means of creating new Quick Steps. In the case of the forward to manager option, I was presented with a first run dialog that asked me for my manager's address for future use.
PowerPoint 2010 has picked up some new, slick-looking Smart Art elements, along with some fancy new Apple Keynote-style slide transition effects.