Microsoft Office is installed on hundreds of millions of computers across the planet and has become so much a part of daily life that even "Office for Mac"-one of the few software suites Microsoft makes for Apple-is one of the top-selling applications for Macs.
The last overhaul of Office was in 2007 when the software came with the contextual "ribbon" instead of the traditional drop-down menu on Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Office 2010 now changes the nuts and bolts while maintaining the looks, with the "ribbon" interface also moving to other Office products such as Outlook and OneNote. Think of this more as adding a turbocharger to the engine of your car than anything else.
What then are the really big changes that you need to know about?
COLLABORATIVE AUTHORING, if you can call it that, today involves mailing the same attachment to several people and then somehow managing the near-impossible task of keeping track of revisions. Either that, or there is a linear process which involves several emails, clogging up the inbox and consuming time. The co-authoring process in the latest Office is a nifty tool-you can collaborate with several other people at the same time, and you as the author can determine which paragraphs, work sheets or slides others can edit.
Co-authoring is supported on Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. If you and another writer have a difference of opinion, you could clear the air by opening a chat window right inside Word.
BROADCASTING does not always mean television. Suppose your flight to a major office conference in London has been delayed indefinitely thanks to a volcano in Iceland with an unpronouncable name. What do you do? Well, you can now broadcast your PowerPoint presentation from inside PowerPoint, and you can invite anyone to view the presentation over the Internet. All you need is an Internet connection (at least 256kbps) and a phone for a voice over.
VIDEO TRIMMING AND PHOTO EDITING, much like broadcasting, was always something you could do only by opening another application-if you had one. But now adding photographs and video in PowerPoint, Word and Outlook is easy. In PowerPoint you can not only edit and trim the video, you can add effects and text to come in when you want them to. Again, not a really "radical" solution, but made very simple. In fact, the photo-editing tool is quite capable and makes removing backgrounds, cropping and adding basic effects fairly easy. The enhanced graphics ability almost allows you to make your presentation into a movie.
That graphics ability also flows into Excel, allowing you more interesting ways of visualising your data. It is even easier to share content between different applications, and if you use the improved OneNote software bundled into even basic versions of Office, you can cross reference data from not just different documents but also the Internet.
WITH OFFICE WEB APPS, Microsoft has made some interesting moves when it comes to online communities, perhaps taking a cue from the Xbox Live platform, an unqualified success among gamers.
In Office 2010, Microsoft is moving its popular productivity tools onto the "cloud" too. You could sign-up and work on Office on most modern browsers. In fact, you do not need to buy Office 2010 to use its Web version, only a broadband connection. This will also allow you to share your documents, presentations and spreadsheets on the Web with your friends via websites such as Facebook. Companies could also enable online sharing inside their network using SharePoint, which is more intuitive to use in the current avatar.
The big plus for Office Web Apps is that there is no loss of formatting from the PC to the Web versions. There is even more when it comes to the Web and in Office 2010, Microsoft has integrated Facebook and LinkedIn straight onto Outlook in this new release.
OFFICE MOBILE shows that Microsoft has taken to heart the premise that the future of the Web is mobile; all of the major tools in Office 2010 are mobile-compatible. This will initially work on all devices powered by Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 and upcoming devices on Windows Phone 7 but Microsoft has tied up with Nokia which will make these tools also available on future Nokia smartphones running Symbian software. Like Office Web Apps, Microsoft promises that the mobile version will maintain all formatting.
Microsoft has different versions of Office, the basic "Home and Student" edition with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote has a US retail price of $149 (Rs 6,700) and the 'Home and Business' edition which has Outlook will retail for $279 (around Rs 12,500) but versions preinstalled will be up to 30 per cent cheaper.
Microsoft claims that you will not need any major enhancements in computer processing power to run Office 2010. However, we suspect that with the enhanced graphical ability of Office 2010 (both on the PC and the Web) and its multithread ability, it might not be a bad idea to get memory upgrades.
Interested in a test drive? Microsoft, having learnt from the tremendous user feedback it received for Windows 7, has also made the beta version of Office 2010 available online. You can download the beta version of Office 2010 from www.microsoft.com/office/2010/.