Microsoft Office 2010: What you need to know

Wondering what the new Microsoft Office 2010 will bring? Well Microsoft has released a host of screen shots from the new Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Excel to give us an understanding of what to expect as well as detailing a bit more information as to what the new products will offer.

When, what, who, why?
Microsoft Office 2010 will be available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions in the first half of 2010. It will come in five guises from the entry-level Microsoft Office Home and Student edition, which features the basic offering of Excel, PowerPoint, Word and OneNote, to Microsoft Office Professional Plus, which includes everything. The average consumer is likely to go for Microsoft Office Standard 2010 which includes the main packages.

How much is it going to cost me?
The company has not yet given pricing details as yet, nor a confirmed release date.

Will I need to upgrade my PC?
Microsoft has also confirmed that if you can run Office 2007, then you'll be fine running Office 2010 with support for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 all on offer.

The Office Web Apps are designed to work with IE, Firefox and Apple's Safari. Google's Chrome will probably work, but support isn't listed in the official documents from Microsoft at the moment.

When can I get my hands on a copy?
The Office suite has been released to a select few as a technical preview at the moment, however Microsoft has said that it will be available as a beta later in the year. Although details are scarce on when that will happen, Microsoft is likely to follow the same procedure as its successful roll out of Windows 7, giving you a taste of what's to come with strings attached.

Will it work on a Mac?
No. Microsoft's Office for Mac isn't the same thing. It works on a different cycle and therefore won't be getting an update at the same time. Microsoft has said that users can expect an upgrade sometime late 2010 to mid 2011.

So what do I get?
All applications, which are due out as a suite, in one of five guises in the first half of 2010, have had an overhaul.

While each application will get its own improvements, there are some new elements which are sweeping in across the board. The main new feature from a user interface point of view is "The Ribbon". Put simply a ribbon of icons that flows across the top of each application giving you access to all the features the applications have to offer.

The new applications will also have online access while all will benefit from a new feature called "View Backstage", which as the name implies gives you access to the backstage elements of your documents such as .pdf management and printing. Previously spread across several commands (page layout, preview, print) they are now all together in one Print tab within the Backstage view. You can assign metadata to a file, check it for accessibility, or make sure it’s finalised and ready to share with others. Microsoft says that Backstage will let you share, print, and publish your documents with just a few clicks.

What's new in Outlook 2010?
Here the main focus for Outlook is a more streamlined approach to staying on top of everything, including the thousands of emails you no doubt get.

The new software will allow you to save inbox space with improved email conversation tracking and management. You'll also be able to compress long email threads into a few conversations that can be categorised, filed, ignored, or cleaned up with a few clicks.

What's new in Word 2010?
Word continues on its WordArt mantra in the hope that it will let you spruce up your business reports or dissertations.

You also get a new feature called "Document Map", which, judging by how it performs in promotional videos and screen shots we've seen, allows you to view your document in a similar way to the pdf index. However, the difference is that rather than just letting you see what's what, you can edit it, move text elements around the document and have full control of the order without having to jump between pages getting confused. Microsoft says it will also allow you to search your document without pulling up the find and replace box.

Of course Word's killer element is likely to be the online functionality that let you share documents with others, Google Docs style. In what is likely to bring collaborative working to the mainstream you'll be able to edit documents with others. Better still Microsoft says you'll be able to see what changes other people have made with a link to all their contact details so you can ping them a message, phone and email without having to look it up in your address book.

What's new in Excel 2010?
One for the accountants, FDs and CFOs of this world, Excel not only goes online so you can share your weekly expenses with the office without having to see your boss to sign them off, but Microsoft seems to have introduced even more ways to datamine and analyse your stats.

New this time around is "Slicer", a tool that lets you drill down on data by only showing the data that has been selected.

Single cell charts, another new feature, gives you mini charts and graphs in a single cell, so you can see what's what quickly without having to create large detailed charts.

What's new in Powerpoint 2010?
If you thought the average PowerPoint presentation was a snoozefest waiting to happen, then you'll be pleased to know that the 2010 version that Microsoft has in store should, if the details given by the software giant are anything to go by, offer even more snoozing capabilities through a barrage of multimedia elements, as the system tries to stay ahead of Keynote on the Mac.

New for 2010 you'll get the ability to add reflections to your images and video (we know that's what you've been waiting for) as well as the ability to edit video in slide because you need that too.

Of course online elements mean that you'll be able to access PowerPoint 2010 from your smartphone or the Web, allowing you to ditch the heavy, 3-year-old laptop for projection purposes you've been lugging around .

Expect to be PowerPointed to death via the Web as well as your meeting room from the middle of 2010.

What about the rest?
Of course Office 2010 isn't just Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook. Users who opt for the full suite will also get OneNote, Publisher, Access and SharePoint Workspace as well as a bundle of other bits and bobs.

Will the web apps be free?
Microsoft has said that for business use, Office Professional Plus and Office Standard 2010 licenses will each include access to the Office Web Apps. Customers will then be able to run the Office Web Apps on SharePoint 2010. However, in what will be seen as Microsoft going up against Google Docs, for personal use, Office Web Apps will be available as a free ad-supported service to consumers via Windows Live.

How can I get all this on my smartphone
Microsoft's Office Mobile 2010 element can only be accessed via a phone running Windows Mobile 6.5 due out sometime later in 2009. You can also open Office file attachments within your e-mail or documents stored on your Windows phone directly. That doesn't mean you are going to have to ditch the iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone anytime soon. You'll be able to publish your documents to something called SharePoint Server 2010 or Windows Live services, and access and view documents from your smartphone browser.