Review: Microsoft Office 2010

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 18 May 2010

At first glance, Microsoft needs to make a very convincing argument to make people take note of Office 2010. After all, it's just another release of Office. Just about anyone would agree that Microsoft Office is by far the most feature rich productivity suite out there, but this great advantage also makes it very difficult to sell us a new version of the software.

Over the years Office has become a very mature product which has become the industry standard, but many people still do not go for every new release, especially in enterprise environments. In the case of Office 2007, its biggest downfall was in fact Microsoft Windows Vista, because MS decided to release the two at the same time, which scared off many businesses in droves, which is sad really, because Office 2007 was actually a completely seperate product which had very little to do with Vista. It's for this very reason that Office 2003 still has a 70% foothold in the enterprise market.

Clearly Microsoft has learned a lesson this time round and kept Office 2010's launch completely seperate from Windows, but rather launched it with a range of new enterprise level apps, such as SharePoint 2010, SQL Server 2010, and Exchange Server 2010. This is a very significant release, and Microsoft has to be commended for doing a complete productivity software overhaul, from server to desktop. Impressive. But today I am just focussing on Office 2010 (which of course gains a lot of features when combined with these enterprise updates).

Office 2010 contains the traditional apps we expect, like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note and Outlook. In higher end versions a few more apps are included. Like I mentioned before, these apps have become so mature, it would be silly going through every new feature in every app. What is more interesting is how MS has integrated these apps with one another, and enhanced them to compete in this time where everybody is starting to take note of competitors like Google Docs. I will focus on major improvements instead of every small change.

Working Together

One app that can be singled out is Outlook. You know Outlook? That app that most people in corporate environments stare at day in and day out? In Office 2007, Microsoft debuted the Ribbon interface which improved most of the Office apps, but Outlook was left out. It had to stick to the old school File, Edit, View menus. Now Outlook 2010 gets some Ribbon love, and the app is indeed much more intuitive to use.




Where Outlook shines is in its new social features, which are actually very nice to use in practice. The way it works is with the "Social Connector" which is a platform for third party websites and service to write plugins for Outlook which makes the way we interact with contacts a bit more interesting. For example, when conversing with a colleague over email, Outlook can be made aware of his latest status updates on Facebook or LinkedIn (if you prefer to keep "work" social network seperate, but these types of services can run concurrently). This also gives you a profile pic of the person you are talking to, as well as a timeline of communications. Other services include Windows Live, Myspace and also Exchange 2010 (which gives a few more powerful features). The only third party networks who have actually released these plugins already are Linkedin and Myspace, with more to come. I do feel however that Microsoft was trying to mimic some of Xobni's features, but I have to agree that Microsoft's implementation is somewhat better.


In the past few years the holy grail of Office apps were the supposed "working together" feature that no-one really wanted. Now I am not bashing Microsoft here, but I have not really come across a situation where I need to edit a document with someone else concurrently (maybe you know of a situation where it's needed). But what I can say is that it works beautifully. In a recent Excel demo I saw how well it worked, and then in my own testing it *just worked* through Windows Live's services.

Powerpoint also gains an interesting new feature to broadcast slides to anyone connected to the internet. Again, though the use of Windows Live or Sharepoint, you send an invite to a recipient which contains a URL (which can be public or private) and from there the person can see the slides being presented live. While you can send this to anyone in the world, I think it might be more handy in meeting environments and classrooms for people who want to read slides right on their machines.

Office Anywhere


Where it becomes even more interesting is through the use of Office Web Apps - Microsoft's knockout to the Google Docs offering. Instead of a barebones interface like Google Docs, Office Web Apps looks like a near perfect rendering of the actual native Office app. These Web Apps are accessed through Windows Live and also through Facebook (which is still in Beta). In corporate environments, this will be managed through the latest version of Sharepoint server. Now where might you use this? Imagine you need to edit a word document from a computer without Office. Now, as long as it is connected to the internet, you can go ahead and just use the web app version of Office by using your Windows Live login details. Microsoft also made this functionality available to Facebook users, but it is still in an invite only beta at this stage.

Bring Ideas to Life



Office has also improved the multimedia aspects of Office. Most of these enhancements go into Powerpoint. Sometimes small things, like better looking transitions between slides, but also some very handy tools for image editing. I was astonished by how well certain tools work - like removing the background from an image worked almost perfectly, and just required some cropping. Compare this to the process of using something like Photoshop and then exporting the edited file for use in Powerpoint. Screen clipping can also be done by just clicking a button, and selecting the part you want to add to your document or message. Altering colours or contrast work brilliantly, with small previews of how the image might look on every button.

Practical Productivity Platform

One aspect I do appreciate with Office 2010 is the attention they have given to security. Whenever you open a document in Outlook, it will first open that document in sandboxed environment in which editing is also disabled. When you do try to edit the document, it will first make you aware of the security risks. Outlook is also a bit smarter in the way it checks up on mistakes you might make in messages, called Mail Tips. For example, if you send an email to 5 people in your organization and one person outside, it will just remind you of this, in case you are sending confidential information. It will also warn you that you are about to send that report to the entire organization. While it might irritate some people, I am sure it can save your butt at some point. Just maybe. If you are connected to an Exchange server, Outlook will also inform you before you hit send if someone is out of office.  Handy.

Outlook also gains threaded conversation view, which is now set as default. Instead of browsing through hundreds of emails which might contain a lot of replies and re-replies, Outlook groups your messages so that you can keep context of any conversation. Mac has used this in its native Mail app for quite some time, so it's great that this is now in Office as well. Outlook also gains a new feature called "quick steps" which contextually change as you do different things. For example, it connects to Sharepoint and knows who your team members are, and sets up a quick link to forward something to your team. You can also go create your own multiple "quick steps" in which you specify what a button does.



For people responsible for deployment, Office is much more versatile this time round. One new method I have been testing is "Click to Run" which makes Office run in sandboxed, virtualized environment. This is built on App-V, a new method of virtualizing (almost) any app on top of Windows. This makes it much more versatile in complex machine setups - for example, you might have someone who runs very old macros that are reliant on Office 2003, but they also need Office 2010, without any problems occurring.

Overall I am very happy with Office 2010, and it's a very tough product to fault. Its almost like they thought of everything. Of course there is always the issue of price, and yes there are free alternatives. But we are talking about the standard here, and something not many people can choose not to run. Office 2010 can be bought in a number of SKU's. But for the first time they are also selling key-cards, so that you can save money on the initial price, provided you have an internet connection which you are comfortable downloading a large file through (yay for uncapped). You will be able to buy the key cards at computer stores, and then you just take them home and use the product key inside to activate a new licence, and you download the install files. These keycard prices are specifically made for South Africa, and Microsoft actually checks when you download the install files whether you are indeed in South Africa. There exists a few other versions for enterprises rollouts, but here we focus on the consumer versions.

Home & Student:
It will include Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010 and Office Web Apps. What's significant with this SKU is that the buyer can install it on up to three machines in his home. So you can buy it for Mom, Dad and another machine.
Price: R899 (with install media) R799 (if you download the install files yourself, called the keycard version)

Home & Business:
This version is focussed on people who actually work from home. It includes Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Outlook 2010 and Office Web Apps. This is for a single licence.
Price: R1999 (with install media) or R1899 (keycard version)

Professional:
Here things get pricier. It comes with Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Outlook 2010, Publisher 2010, Access 2010, Office Web Apps and premium technical support. If you do need Publisher and Access, I really recommend you go for the keycard version.
Price: R5199 (with install media) or R3699 (keycard version)

Bizarrely, you might notice is that Microsoft removed upgrade pricing. However, you do save some money going for the keycard versions.

Conclusion:

So should you upgrade? Well, it depends on your situation - if you are stilling running Office 2003, I would really recommend you move to Office 2010. There are too many improvements to count and the increase in efficiency with just dealing with day to day tasks quickly become apparent. You might have held out on the Ribbon interface, but it clearly is the future of Office. Just go for it.

If you are running Office 2007, things become a bit more complicated. True, they function very similiarly, so unless you need very specific new features that only Office 2010 offers, you need evaluate carefully if it's worth the cost. But if there is one tip I might give you - go take Outlook 2010 for a test drive. Outlook has been improved so much that it might be the very reason you would want to upgrade. Gone are the long loading times and tedious menus. Things happen quickly and the whole application is much easier to use.

Despite the high price, nothing comes close to Office 2010 in terms of ease of use and feature richness.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Pros:
Outlook 2010 is a huge upgrade
Major performance improvements
Good pricing on Home and Student version

Cons:
Professional SKU is very pricey

PS: Microsoft, get cracking on Office 2011 for Mac please. I want the new Outlook on my Mac as well.
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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.