Office 2010 Tech Preview – All Round Improvements

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Microsoft’s Office 2010 shows plenty of updates to core Office abilities – but also takes Office out to the web, where it performs within Explorer Firefox and Safari browsers

The Technical Preview release of Microsoft’s Office 2010 has quite a bit in common with the past few Office upgrades – namely, the new suite is brimming with enhancements to core Office capabilities, many of which centre around exposing the apocryphal 80 percent of Office functionality that most users overlook.

For example, Microsoft’s Office team has put a great deal of work into the fairly mundane area of cut and paste, calling on the Smart Tags that first appeared in Office XP to save users the trouble of rooting through the Ribbon to access the suite’s style and formatting controls.

Along similar lines, the charting capabilities that have always lurked in Excel have undergone a major overhaul in Office 2010. Not only is there a handful of new chart types from which to choose, but Microsoft has made Excel charts significantly more useful by integrating them into spreadsheet data cells.

However, in addition to the incremental improvements that mark every Office upgrade, Office 2010 breaks significant new ground by expanding beyond the bounds of the Windows desktop to appear in rich, Web-based versions that perform as well on Firefox and Safari browsers as on Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer.

Microsoft has not yet made the Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook available for testing, but Office product managers demonstrated these applications for me in our San Francisco lab offices. I’m withholding further judgment on Microsoft’s Office Web applications until I’ve had the chance to test them myself, but based on those demonstrations, I was very impressed with the richness of the applications’ interfaces, both on IE and on Firefox.

What’s more, according to Microsoft, the Web versions of Office 2010 applications will be available to enterprises in both hosted and on-premises versions, as well as in freely accessible versions for individual users. Somewhat marring the cross-platform appeal of Office on Web will be Microsoft’s offline access solution for the suite, which will depend on the Windows-only SharePoint Workspace (the application previously known as Groove).

The Technical Preview release that I tested will be accessible to a limited group of users, but should be followed by a broadly available public beta later this year.

Backstage Pass

Each of the Office 2010 components that I tested include a new Backstage area, which I could reach by clicking a round Office logo button at the left side of the Ribbon.

Each Backstage area housed “meta document” options, such as 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.