Office 2010 first thoughts

Well, there’s some information finally coming out about Office 2010 and some of the features we will hopefully be seeing in the final release version next year. As the Technical Preview gets released to an invited audience only at this stage, there aren’t loads of sources of details, but a few places are showing off some interesting ideas and if you watch the videos carefully and look closely at the screenshots there are nuggets to be found.

If you want to be considered for the technical preview yourself, you can still sign up via the “Get a pass” link on the main “launch” site at Office 2010 – the movie. This site started out just hosting a teaser movie but now has a look and feel similar to the new “Backstage” interface which has been added to the Fluent UI to replace the current Office button menu to help you work with different aspects of your document in one place. There are a few videos posted on there right now, no doubt more to come soon.

Where can I find out more?

There are some useful overview documents on the Microsoft PressPass site, including an Office 2010 FAQ which covers a number of things, notably an outline of which products will be included in which versions of the suites available through retail or volume licensing. The oddest thing is that the various press releases available here are all Word .doc documents. Not a universal format like PDF. Not even Microsoft’s own portable format XPS. Not Word 2007 DOCX (probably a good idea not to assume people would already be on board with that, even with the compatibility pack for older versions). Other documents linked from that page give more detail for each of the products individually, but only at a brief marketing level, nothing too technical.

What are the biggest changes?

The most obvious change across the Office system as whole is that all the applications will now have the fluent UI and ribbon, which has also had slight facelift – they have removed many of the borders round buttons, reducing the visual clutter and “flattening” the overall effect (almost exactly what they did in the evolution of the toolbar from Office 97 to 2000). Selected or active options still appear to have borders to make them clearer. When you have additional context-sensitive tabs appearing in the Ribbon, the coloured highlight above them seems to be bolder because it extends from a solid colour at the top of the title bar fading out as it goes down into the Ribbon tabs area, rather than at the moment where this is only visible in the title bar area and fades quickly upwards. This may make the additional tools more obvious to new users when they need them, and help distinguish between similar items by getting used to the colours used.

The other big news items are the introduction of browser-based document viewing and editing (discussed below), and the availability of a 64-bit version of all the products (as well as 32 bit for legacy compatibility). This may provide some speed and productivity benefits to those who have appropriate hardware and OS to take advantage of this, use more memory and so on. Larger Access models might make more sense, but Excel spreadsheets of over 2GB? Hopefully not too often. I do know some people who could probably build PowerPoint shows that big though…

Browser based access? No installation?

Chris Capossela, Senior Vice President of the Office products, did a video for Channel 9 introducing Office 2010, and a lot of emphasis on this idea of Office everywhere for more flexible collaboration, which he described as

The best productivity software for the PC, the phone and the browser

The concept of being able to access your work equally from anywhere is a pretty powerful shift in emphasis (can I use the phrase “new paradigm” without irony?) So you could use the full application on a powerful Windows box, a browser on any machine (including non-windows devices if the support for Firefox and Safari works out), or even a phone (not clear if this needs to be a Windows mobile device, or any web-capable smartphone, although Chris talks about new version of Office Mobile, so it seems like the former).

From what we have seen there will of course be some limitations in the available functionality. This screenshot of editing a Word document in a browser is quite revealing, just in the sheer lack of tabs across the Ribbon gives some indication of the reduced functionality. As to whether this will really deliver value to customers remains to be seen. I am sure there are times when someone just needs to proof-read and edit the text without adding lots of other rich content, or check a spreadsheet to simply update their sales forecast figures. But there are many other times when adding that video to a PowerPoint slide deck for tomorrow’s pitch, or actually using Excel to do some real analysis are quite important too.

Of course, the fundamental layer to all this is not the desktop products (clearly, since the whole point is that you don’t need them), but rather the place you store your documents. This could be “in the cloud” using Office Live online services, or on one of your enterprise Sharepoint 2010 document libraries. This may be the compelling reason that finally encourages more corporates to move to Sharepoint. The ability to control access, do version control, manage document production workflows, check documents in and out to use offline copies safely, store metadata and index things for almost-instant search have not been enough for some IT managers to buy into the idea. Corporate governance legislation, e-discovery risks and other factors are already pushing better document management onto the agenda in many boardrooms. The added convenience of access from anywhere might be an additional factor which makes the decision easier.

There will still be a cost implication for both the Sharepoint installation (or some kind of SaS or SaaS subscription) and some kind of user licence for Office 2010. Pricing has not been released for any products in the suite at the moment, but partners are being reassured that the online model will not affect their revenue streams as companies will still have to buy licences, so the general principle seems clear, and may be more like the CALs associated with server products traditionally. However, some 400 Million existing users of Office Live and skydrive will have access to these Office web apps for free from the final date of release, so it’s not clear how this fits with the previous statement.

Added features in Office 2010 suite products

Over the next few days I’ll be looking at each of the products in the suite in turn and discussing some of the most important new features we will be looking forward to.

Other products in Office System 2010

The Office “system” includes desktop products like Visio and Project even though they are sold separately and not as part of any of the suites. These are getting the Ribbon just like the rest of the Office system, as is Sharepoint Workspace 2010 (the new name for Groove).

Another flavour of Visio is coming

There is a third product entering the Visio line up – “Visio Premium”. The old Visio Enterprise was discontinued some time ago taking the choice down to two (standard and professional), which meant the loss of some pretty useful features for connecting to and diagramming active directory domains and Exchange organisations. There’s more emphasis in Visio 2010 for connecting to live data sources (rather than just drawing pictures), and closer integration with Sharepoint, as with the rest of the Office system. According to the press release:

Visio Premium 2010, introduced this year, offers advanced diagramming capabilities for IT and Process management, including new templates for Business Process Management Notations (BPMN), The Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma and SharePoint Workflow; new process management tools such as subprocess to help with standardization and reuse; and rules and logic validation to ensure accuracy and consistency across the organization. In addition, SharePoint workflows developed in Visio 2010 Premium can be exported for execution and real-time monitoring on Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

Visio guy has started posting about some of the new features in Visio 2010 and Sharepoint, and I am sure he will have more to say about these features in due course.

What are the best features you have seen announced? What would you like to see in the new suite?

One Response to Office 2010 first thoughts

  1. Pingback: Excel 2010 new features « Getting IT Right – the unofficial voice of Meteor IT

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