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Tech Report – Office 2010

The latest version of Microsoft’s popular Office suite of programs went on sale worldwide today. The Redmond, WA-based software giant said Office 2010 was now available at 35,000 retailers around the world, including superstores like Best Buy and Office Depot, as well as online retailers such as Amazon.com and Newegg.

Office 2010 is also being preloaded on the latest desktop and laptop computers from all the leading brands and Microsoft expects more than 100 million PCs equipped with the new software to ship within the next year.

Although we can expect the majority of large businesses to quickly upgrade to the new Office software, what about small businesses and the home user? To help you decide, we’ll take a quick look at some of the features that are likely to appeal to the regular consumer and also look at how much an upgrade will cost.

What’s new?

Computing in the clouds. Perhaps the biggest change that comes with Office 2010 is not actually part of the software package itself but, instead, is the ability to create and edit documents online, using web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. These online applications are free, so you don’t actually need Office 2010 to use them. However, Office 2010 does make integration and moving back and forth between the web and the desktop that much easier.

With these web apps, you can create documents locally, share them and collaborate with others, or store them on the web with Microsoft’s Skydrive service. This is Microsoft’s attempt to bring cloud computing to the masses and it’s clearly the way of the future. It’s also Microsoft’s answer to Google Docs and other web-based applications that have started to eat away at its dominance of desktop computing.

Working Backstage. Most Office 2007 users will be pleased to hear that not too much has changed in Office 2010 when it comes to the general command and tab area at the top of each document, which is generally referred to as the “ribbon”. But one thing that has changed is the return of the File menu. The File menu replaces the round Windows icon in the top left corner and consolidates all the file management commands in what Microsoft now calls the Backstage area.

The more logical grouping of commands in Backstage saves time and provides for much greater flexibility in reviewing different print formats and sharing options.

Better graphics editing. Despite their popularity, Word and PowerPoint have always proved overly complicated and unwieldy when it comes to incorporating graphics or doing anything too sophisticated. Office 2010 goes a long way to addressing those issues, allowing photo editing in Word and video editing in PowerPoint among many other graphics enhancements.

The outlook for Outlook. The Office 2007 ribbon interface finally makes it into the Office 2010 version of Outlook, along with the new Backstage management area. Other new features include an enhanced “conversation view”, which allows you to see a complete message thread in a tree-style format, and a powerful new search tool that lets you look for contacts in LinkedIn and other social networks.

What will it cost?

Office 2010 comes in three standard editions: Office Home and Student, which includes Word, Excel PowerPoint and One Note, for $149.99; Office Home and Business, which also includes Outlook, for $279.99; and Office Professional, which adds Publisher and Access and costs $499.99.

At this time, Amazon.com is offering discounted versions of Office Home and Student for $129.99 and Office Home and Business for $239.99.

If you’re not sure you want to commit to the upgrade, a 60-day free trial is available.

The bottom line

Office 2010 is a major enhancement to an already-dominant business and personal productivity software package that, despite Google’s claims to the contrary, remains miles ahead of the competition. If you regularly use Word, Excel, Outlook or any of the other Office programs but are still stuck with Office 2003, then an immediate upgrade to Office 2010 will change your world – and all for the better.

For Office 2007 users, it’s a case of balancing the need for the enhancements with the likelihood of buying a new computer over the next few months. If you are unlikely to be in the market for an Office 2010 pre-loaded machine any time soon, and you consider yourself to be any kind of “power user”, then an upgrade now is probably a very good idea.

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