The next version of Microsoft’s Office suite is due for availability in early 2010, as its name suggests, but the software giant recently made available a technical preview to a limited number of testers.
We looked at the preview and found that most of the common applications show few significant differences over their counterparts in the current release, Office 2007. While some changes have been made to the user interface, anyone familiar with the ribbon interface introduced in Office 2007 will have little difficulty in starting to work with Office 2010.
Microsoft has also stated that any computer capable of running Office 2007 will meet the system requirements for Office 2010, and the suite will support Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista and Windows 7.
The most significant new feature is the browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Sadly, these are not included in the technical preview release, but we hope to get a hands-on with these when Microsoft makes test builds available sometime in August.
One aspect of Office 2010 that potential users should be aware of is its sheer size; the installer flagged up a warning during setup that a typical configuration calls for at least 1.5GB of free disk space.
This may not sound like a problem with terabyte drives now on the market but, if you have a laptop or netbook with a Flash solid state drive for storage, 1.5GB could easily represent a sizable chunk of the available free space.
In use, we found that the Office 2010 applications performed smoothly and the suite seemed more like finished code than a pre-release test version.
Changes to the user interface common across most applications include the Backstage view, accessible from a new-look Office button. As well as providing access to file, print and share options, this displays a wealth of information about the current document, including editing permissions and whether the application is editing it in compatibility mode.
Cut-and-paste has also been overhauled so that users now get a preview of what the changes will look like. Users get the option of pasting text into Word with the formatting from the source document or the formatting of the paragraph it is being inserted into, for example.
New features include the ability to edit images and add effects inside Word, without having to go out to a separate editing tool. PowerPoint extends this to enable simple editing of video content embedded into a presentation.
Outlook now has a feature called Quick Steps that lets the user combine multiple actions into one click, in a similar way to macros. For example, a ready defined Quick Step combines the reply to message and delete actions. Users can define their own Quick Steps from the list of actions, which includes the ability to move emails to specified folders.
Another important feature of Office 2010 is enhanced collaboration. Word, OneNote and PowerPoint now enable multiple users to work on a single document at the same time, but this feature requires access to either SharePoint for business users or Windows Live for consumers.
In this respect, Microsoft is continuing a process it began several years ago of integrating Office with other Microsoft products and services, so that customers require a significant investment in Microsoft infrastructure if they wish to get the maximum benefit from Office.
Overall, our first impressions of Office 2010 are that it represents a relatively minor step up from Office 2007, which by contrast was a significant break with earlier versions of the suite.
Whether Office 2010 will prove a worthwhile upgrade for users currently on Office 2007 or Office 2003 is difficult to gauge at the time of writing, as Microsoft has yet to disclose pricing for the forthcoming release.