Microsoft takes the wrapper off some more Office 2010 features as the Technical Preview is released

Office productivity applications are pretty dull really. Or at least we like to think so, until a new suite comes along and we get excited about the new features. Three years ago, I wrote about how I was looking forward to the 2007 Microsoft Office System. These days I use Office 2007 every day and I really appreciate some of the new functionality. Even if I do still struggle with the ribbon from time to time, it does make sense – and going back to Office 2003 for a few weeks whilst my work notebook PC was being repaired was not a pleasant experience.

Microsoft gave us a sneak preview of the next version of Office (codenamed Office 14) at PDC 2008. Then they announced that it would be known as Office 2010 and today, at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in New Orleans, they showed us a few more of the features to expect when the product ships in the first half of next year and announced that the product has reached its Technical Preview milestone.

Today’s keynote only included a short section on Office (Ed Bott has some more information in his blog post about the Office 2010 debut) but Takeshi Yamoto (Corporate Vice President for Office) demonstrated:

  • Outlook: receives the ribbon interface (as do all Office applications, including SharePoint); voicemail in inbox with text to speech preview so it can be read without playing the audio; click on a section of the text in the preview and Outlook will play just that part of the message; contact cards include integration with OCS for click to call, e-mail or send an instant message; a conversation view (familiar to Google Mail) aids dealing with Inbox clutter as it allows a few conversations to be acted on at once – and works across folders; conversations can be ignored (“a Mute button for Outlook”); QuickSteps can be applied to common e-mail tasks – e.g. message archival, forwarding, or the creation of a meeting invite; finally MailTips warns that that someone is out of office before you send them mail, or that mail is being sent outside the organisation, or to a large distribution group. (Some features may require Exchange Server 2010, Office Communications Server 2007 R2, or Office SharePoint Server 2010)
  • Excel: new business intelligence tools for analysis are provided as part of Microsoft’s “democratisation of BI” – putting more useful tools into the hands of more people – including mini-charts in a single cell and slices to drill through data.
  • PowerPoint: new transitions; video becomes a first class citizen – insert footage and edit inside PowerPoint, including recolouring and the application of effects such as border, reflection, etc.; a new backstage view allows organisation of all features and commands for the entire file, including compression, seeing who is editing the file, and allowing integration with line of business applications; more SmartArt (building on Office 2007); slides can be advanced whilst presenting across the web, in browser and on even on a smartphone!
  • Office Web Applications: demonstrating Excel running in a browser – looking the same as the full client (complete with ribbon); multiple users working on a file simultaneously with syncronised updates populated on one another’s views; works in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.
  • SharePoint: More information will be made available at the SharePoint conference in October.

Whilst there are some cool new features here (and there are enhancements to other Office applications, like Word and Visio too), the most significant part of Office 2010 is the web application (webapp) functionality. Microsoft announced that webapps will be available in three ways:

  1. For consumers: free of charge via Windows Live.
  2. For business that require management and control: as a Microsoft Online Service.
  3. For volume license customers: Office webapps running on premise.

With over 400 milion Windows Live customers, plus business customers with software assurance, around half a billion users will have immediate access to office web applications on the day of launch. In short, Microsoft wants to make the 2010 Office System the best productivity experience whatever the device – making the most of the power of a PC, the mobility of a phone and the ubiquity of a web browser.

Microsoft wants to make the 2010 Office System the best productivity experience – for PC, phone and browser

Office web applications are clearly aimed at competing with offerings from Google (and others) but, as a Google Apps user who is collaborating on a pretty simply budget spreadsheet (for some home improvements) with someone else (my wife), I find it Google Spreadsheets very basic and I can’t wait to see what I need to make rich Office functionality work in across browsers with the Microsoft solution.

I’m sure some of the features demonstrated today will be missing from the technology preview (I should find out soon, as should anyone else who is accepted for the technical preview) but, as someone who collaborates with others, working on multiple computers, with multiple operating systems and a plethora of browsers, when Office 2010 finally makes it to my screen I expect to be a very happy chap.

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