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Building a better Office

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never got things so right. It has taken a long time to bring its flagship Office suite to the web (think Docs) and now (beta version) is finally available for download. Within days of its announcement, it has already been downloaded by over 2 million users. In the wake of potential challenges from Google’s browser-based apps and its new Chrome operating system, the software giant’s three screens strategy — ability for products to synchronise across phone, browser and desktop — seems to be finally working.

Office 2010’s USP
It promises to outshine its predecessor. This latest offering from Microsoft is designed to deliver unified access across your computer, phone and wherever you have web access. What this means is you can review and do minor editing on Word, Excel, documents by using Office Web Apps from your laptop, PC or mobile phone. It works fine with web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.

Is it the same as Google docs?
Yes, Office 2010 will include web-based applications, like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the online collaborative program OneNote. Microsoft says all the Office 2010 web applications will be available to anyone with a Windows Live account. Just like Google docs, web-based Office 2010 will allow you to create, edit and share existing documents without having to pay a dime for it.

However, in the beta version of web-based Office, the company has not added such important features as the ability to create charts in Excel. Since these apps are web-based, you also get to store documents online at a free Windows Live SkyDrive account, (an online storage account similar to Flickr or Picasa) that needs no installation on your PC.

What can you get for your PC?
You can download Microsoft Home and Business 2010 (beta) that needs about 600MB on the PC (takes around 40 minutes on a 3 Mbps connection). When you install the beta, your earlier Office suite (on the PC) would be replaced with Office 2010, as the two versions cannot co-exist.

We are told that the beta version of Office 2010 will expire in October 2010 and, at that time, users would be required to buy the full version.

The look and feel of Office 2010
If you didn’t like the ribbon interface in Office 2007, then you will not like Office 2010 because it has the ribbon everywhere. Forester Research claims that more than 85 per cent of users liked the ribbon interface in Office 2007 and only 2.4 per cent found it “significantly more difficult to use.” However, Microsoft has made some improvements in Office 2010, including allowing the ribbon to be customised by end users.

In Office 2007, a round Office button replaced many of the functions commonly accessed from the menu bar, such as last opened document, saving or printing etc. In Office 2010, the button has been replaced with something that looks like a ribbon tab at the top. Clicking on the tab at the far left brings up a separate screen, called Backstage View. The Backstage interface displays a list of tasks in a panel on the left but most of the screen is dedicated to displaying the options available for the selected task.

A new feature called, ‘Paste Preview’ allows you to see the text that you paste on a document and how it looks once you complete the action. It also gives you the choice of maintaining the format from the source, merging the format, or pasting the text with no format.

What’s new with Office suite?
is probably the most used application in Office. The biggest improvement to Word 2010 is the improved search option within a document. In previous versions, when you used the ‘Find’ dialog, it was an actual window that appeared on top of the document itself and obstructs the view. In Word 2010, the Find feature pops up in a navigation window to the left of the document. Among other things, the new Office Word allows collaborating on documents (two people can work on the document at the same time), capturing and inserting screenshots directly from Word and recovering drafts of recent edited documents. With Office Excel, users can create mini charts in a single cell, pivot table enhancement and, as with all apps access data from virtually anywhere.

The first thing that Microsoft did to PowerPoint 2010 was to update the slide animations and transitions. Users have been able to embed video into presentations so far, but there hasn’t been a way to easily edit them. In PowerPoint 2010, you can edit embedded video from within PowerPoint without an external editing programme.You can compress the video to reduce the presentation’s file size. Also, PowerPoint 2010 supports embedding video from video sites like YouTube.

Outlook Social Connector, a new feature in Office Outlook, tracks your emails and other history with a specific contact and extends Outlook’s reach beyond Office to the internet. For example, when you are reading an email, the Connector appears at the bottom of the message in a separate pane, which displays the history of your communication in Outlook — emails, attachments, meetings scheduled and so on. It can also automatically grab new contact information from social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and update them in Outlook, as well as import pictures and status updates of the contacts from those sites and display them in Outlook.

The bottomline: Consumers have more reason to cheer the arrival of Office 2010 than just the inclusion of free web-based Office apps.

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