Microsoft Office 2010 hands-on

On general release from 15 June, Microsoft's 2010 edition of Office is already being rolled out to OEM manufacturers and business users. However, its sexiest new features are targeted at normal everyday use for normal everyday people.

Some might not see any huge changes over Office 2007, but it's the number of improvements that make the difference. Not only does it feature a simplified ribbon bar (the tools that run along the top), but all of the improvements to each application make basic functionality easier to understand and implement: "There's lots of little things that come together to make it really easy for consumers to use", says Chris Adams, Office Client product manager, Microsoft UK.

New Office Web Apps - editing documents directly in a browser

Additionally, integration is a key buzzword in this iteration, with the ability to edit and view documents and presentations on a variety of platforms, such as web and phone, as well as the humble PC: "This is the first release that Microsoft is offering across the PC, phone and browser", he says. "And we feel really really good about how that works".

Ironically, the first major change for Microsoft is the killing-off of Works. No longer will a new PC be preloaded with the basic tools that make up the Works package. Instead, all PCs will feature Office 2010 Starter, a free, pared-down version of the suite.

If the user doesn't need any extra features, they can happily continue to use Starter 'til the cows come home. But, if they want to upgrade, they can unlock the applications that make up the three premium packages - Home and Student, Home and Business, and Professional - as they see fit. The software is also pre-installed, with features simply locked-out by Starter, so upgrading can be performed by simply buying a key (such as a keycard or online).

It's a clever way of diminishing the sea of icons that normally greet a new PC owner, with Works and a 60-day trial of Office being guilty of taking up real estate in the past.

Word 2010 now comes with a side-bar menu system for easy navigation

Delving into the packages themselves, there are a number of significant changes. Word, for example, now allows the user to perform (basic) picture editing within a document.

A number of picture filters are available to adapt an image without having to use a separate piece of software - such as adding sepia tone effects, etc. However, our favourite of those demonstrated is definitely the background removal filter, which essential cuts out the foreground object in a photo automatically.

Another neat image tool contained with the new Word, gives you the ability to crop a picture straight from a webpage (take a snapshot) which it then places on the page for you. You can also do the same with text, which is grabbed as a pic and an in-built OCR converts it back to words on the fly.

Similar options are also offered in other tools in the suite, especially when it comes to media per se.

Embedding video into PowerPoint 2010 is as easy as A, B, C

PowerPoint 2010 now allows for video to be embedded directly into a presentation. It can be taken from a streaming site, such as YouTube, by pasting the embed code into the project directly, or could be a video stored on the host computer.

Obviously, the online option will require an internet connection for the presentation to work. But, the hosted clip can be encoded into the presentation directly, and compressed depending on the quality required through PowerPoint itself. Needless to say, both types of video are presented with a full control bar. Natty effects can also be added.

OneNote 2010 can grab content from pretty much anywhere

There's a stack of new features in OneNote too, that mainly enhance its integration with the Internet and other software. For example, it's a doddle to lift paragraphs from the Web, and the software will automatically tag it so that you have a record of the source. And it's worth noting (pun intended) that OneNote 2010 has been added to all of the packages, having been restricted to Home and Student in the past.

But it's Office Web Apps - editing directly in a browser - that's the show pony at the moment. It doesn't even need Office 2010 to be installed to work.

Excel documents in Office Web Apps are almost identical to those in PC software

Word, Excel, PowerPoint or OneNote files from Office 2010 saved to SharePoint 2010 or a Windows Live SkyDrive (which comes free with 25GB of storage), can be accessed through a web browser on any computer in the World. And then edited using a host of the features found in the full Office suite, without the need for the software to be installed. Superb.

Additionally, authorised contacts can also amend and alter parts of the documents, even at the same time as the original uploader. And this is coming to Windows Phone 7 too. Tasty.

To be honest, there's too many new features and improvements to list here, but these are some highlights, and things are looking good so far.

We're currently running in the new suite in order to bring you a full review before the official launch date, but for those who want to pre-order any of the three packages before seeing our full test, we suggest buying a copy of Office 2007. Up until 30 September, Microsoft will upgrade the equivalent package to Office 2010 for free, and there are some bargains on the current version knocking around at the moment.



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