The release of the Office 2010 Technical Preview represents the first time Microsoft has showed off any of its Office 2010 applications. The preview includes only the desktop applications, not the Web apps–which will get their own preview on the Live service in August. Without the Web apps or a preview of the next SharePoint server, the collaboration features in Office don’t actually work yet, but there are plenty of new and improved tools, as well as a new look.
All the Office 2010 applications have the "fluent" interface with a ribbon replacing the menus and toolbars. The look is a little different from Office 2007–the Office button, for example, moves down out of the corner and now sits in line with the tabs of the ribbon (and launches a Backstage menu of options). The look is generally cleaner and sparser. If you find the white background bland and boring, the options in the technical preview reveal that there will be two alternate looks for the final version.
Make Your Own Ribbon Tab
If you don’t like the Office ribbon, you can’t change back to the menus and toolbars, but now you can customize the whole ribbon, not just the tiny Quick Access Toolbar. You can add and remove commands on any tab, so you if you want Word's Spelling button or Excel's Insert Chart option on the Home tab instead of under Review and Insert, respectively, you can do that (and get rid of buttons on the Home tab that you don't use to make room for them). Or you can create a whole new tab with all the commands you use every day, with the titles and big icons that make the ribbon so easy to work with. There's also an arrow for collapsing the ribbon tabs if you don't know you could already do it by double clicking a tab name.
The Ribbon in Outlook
The reason Microsoft didn’t put the ribbon in all the Office 2007 apps was that it didn’t have time to work out where the commands should go. The firm has spent the last two years working on that and the solution in Outlook is to have multiple Home tabs: one each for Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Notes. Along with the Send/Receive, Folder, and View tabs, these give you the commands you use every day and the new Options dialog on the Backstage menu has the in-depth configuration options, arranged logically rather than scattered across half-a-dozen different dialog boxes with multiple tabs. Yes, you have to learn where options have moved to but they’re all in logical places.
Outlook: New Mail in Windows 7
Outlook 2010 takes advantage of nearly all the features of the new Windows 7 taskbar. It gives you options to create new email messages, appointments, contacts, or tasks by accessing the respective links on the taskbar. When new messages arrive, the Outlook icon in the taskbar gets an overlay of an envelope, which means that the icon in the notification area is redundant–although you do still need it to show alert messages when network problems occur.
Outlook Conversation View
The Conversation view in Outlook isn’t new, but the new version is much more effective. It collapses multiple messages into a single one and opens the thread when you click on it, which means that if your inbox is full of multiple threads from one conversation, it becomes much more manageable. When the conversation stops being interesting or useful, you can right-click and ignore sub-threads or the whole conversation. Conversation view also consolidates messages that have the same subject, even if they’re not part of the same conversation, so you can consolidate announcements, newsletters, comments to your blog posts, and so on in a single message.
Making 'Quick Steps' in Outlook
Microsoft's new Quick Steps capability in Outlook lets you perform tasks that involve multiple steps with a single click. While Microsoft offers a list of Quick Steps by default, you can customize or add to them in case, for example, Team Emails or Team Meetings are not useful. You can modify Quick Steps by accessing the Dialog menu option and then choosing Modify (or by right-clicking on the Quick Step to change). To create a new Quick Step, use the dropdown menu in the corner of the Quick Steps icon on the ribbon. If you pick one of the standard Quick Step types, then you get this simple dialog, but if you choose Custom, you get a dialog where you can choose as many individual steps as you want. So a Quick Step could send an automatic reply, create a meeting, switch on a reminder, and file the original message, all with one click.
Suggested Contacts in Outlook
Look at your contacts in Outlook 2010 and you’ll spot a new contacts folder called Suggested Contacts. This is a list of everyone you've emailed and everyone who has mailed you who isn’t already in your contacts folder. So when you’re typing a name into a new message, Outlook will look in here to see if it can find the email address for you. You can also drag addresses from here into the main Contacts folder if you want. This is much less intrusive than asking if you want to save every new email sender as a contact and should save a lot of searching through your inbox to dig out addresses manually. But be careful about capitalization. Outlook now treats peter@ and Peter@ as different contacts.
The single most common thing anyone does in Office is copy and paste. And right after you paste, the thing you’re most likely to do is undo, because what you pasted doesn't look right. The problem usually involves formatting, which Office can change with the Paste Options button. Office has offered this option for a while, but it doesn’t seem to be well known. But now, Office 2010 makes it much more obvious with a big SmartTip that pops up whenever you paste anything and lists the different formats you can use for pasting your clip. They are presented as icons rather than the previous list of written options so it’s not always clear what format they represent. However, you can preview each one by hovering over it to get a live preview in your document, which is quicker than trying each one in turn. You can also get a preview before you paste by clicking the Paste dropdown on the Home tab in nearly all Office apps.
Text Effects Replace WordArt
Want a fancy decorative heading in your document? Forget the cheesy WordArt styles with garish gradients and chunky 3D graphics. The WordArt button is still there in the text section of the Insert tab, but the styles are just preset versions of the new Text Effects–which you can get from the glowing blue character in the Font section of the Home tab. This also has a number of presets that you can use right away, but at the bottom are individual controls for Outline, Shadow, Glow, Reflection, and Bezel so you can fine-tune the effect you want. These are the same controls you get for image borders, video frames, shapes, and SmartArt so you can get a consistent design with text styles as well now.
Artistic Effects in Word
Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook have basic but useful photo editing tools–insert or select a picture and you can sharpen or blur it and change the brightness and contrast by picking from a gallery of settings, all with Live Preview. You can also colorize images or use the Artistic Effects. These are mostly "natural media" options that make a photo look like a watercolor, a pencil drawing, or a paper collage, which is a very effective way of blending photos into illustrations. If you have a photo of a person or a gadget in which you’d like to chop out the background, the Background Removal tool will automatically do this for you–it’s good even on complex images, but you can fine-tune it by marking areas to include or remove from the final result.
Word Navigation Pane
The new Navigation Pane combines the Outliner in Word with the Document map, so you can browse through a long document as thumbnail images or a tree of section headings–and you can drag sections around in the pane and move them around in the document. It’s also the new way to search through your document, and again, you can see your results as highlighted headings; as thumbnail images, with the matching words highlighted on the thumbnail and in the document; or as excerpts from the document with what you’ve searched for presented in context. Searching is fast and matches appear as you type. It’s fine for general searching, but setting options for searching is relegated to an entry on the dropdown menu, which is much less convenient than the Options button on the old-style Find and Replace dialog (which you can still use).
New SmartArt Diagrams in Word
SmartArt tools let you create diagrams in Word and PowerPoint with flexible layouts where you can have a cycle or a flow chart that you type in as text instead of piecing it together as an image. There are dozens of new SmartArt diagrams in Office 2010 and many of them are designed for presenting images as well as text, with a whole new category called Pictures. Click the SmartArt button on the Insert tab, choose the diagram style, and then type in labels and select images to fit each element to which you can then resize and apply all the Office visual effects. You can also insert an image and convert it to SmartArt so it becomes the basis of the diagram and apply the effects to that. SmartArt doesn’t work differently than it does in Office 2007, but the new layouts make it much more useful.
PowerPoint Picture Layout
SmartArt is also behind the new Picture Layout option in PowerPoint, although it’s not labeled as SmartArt. These are SmartArt layouts designed for highlighting images rather than just snippets of text, like the Snapshot picture list. When you apply a Picture Layout to an image, it’s resized and positioned on the page, and as you add more images to the layout, PowerPoint resizes and arranges them all to fit together. Start with your first image and type a caption for it, then hit the Enter key to get a new image and caption placeholder. You can replace any of the images easily, switch between different picture layouts to see what works best, and apply the usual formatting options like 3D, glow, shadow, and reflection.
Backstage in PowerPoint
Backstage is all about “controlling the elements that sit behind your document,” Chris Adams, an Office product manager, said. Some of those are the same for every app, like a combination of advanced printer settings and print preview, so if you pick five specific pages to print out of 15, you can see you're getting the right ones. Others are specific to the program. Word has an option to publish the document as a blog entry (with settings for Blogger, TypePad, WordPress, and Live Spaces); Publisher bundles the document with images and fonts to edit on another PC; and PowerPoint has options to save files on a CD or to backup a video of a presentation. The Live Broadcast tool isn’t on here because you’re not handing your presentation over–you’re just hosting it on the PowerPoint Live service and playing it in the Web browser of the people you send a link to.
PowerPoint Video Effects
PowerPoint now offers simple but useful video editing tools. You can trim a video by setting the start and end points (and reduce the file size by cropping the rest off), and you can colorize the video or change the brightness and contrast. If the video has a uniform background, you can set that to be transparent by picking the background color. You can put the video in a frame and add shadows, bevels, soft edges, or a glow around the clip; give the frame a 3D look; or create a reflection of the live video underneath it. Again, these are the same effects you can apply to other elements, so you can give everything a matching style.
PowerPoint supports a much wider range of video formats than the previous version did, including Flash and MPEG-4, while the codecs are built-in so you can play them in your presentation. You can even embed streaming videos from YouTube and other file sharing sites.
Most of the new features in Excel are about visualizing data to make it easier to understand. Sparklines are miniature charts that you can put into a cell if you have a big table of figures. Rather than making a chart that covers all the figures that sits somewhere else on the worksheet, you can put a bar chart or a trend line into the last row or column of the table. That way you can see exactly what’s happening in the numbers, all of which you can see at the same time.
PivotTables are the best way to drill into big spreadsheets, but they’ve never been easy to use. PivotCharts are a lot simpler–think of an interactive chart with dropdowns that let you change which portion of your data you’re including in the graph. A new tool called Slicers makes it easier to split PivotTables and PivotCharts up so that you can compare different views of the information on the same worksheet. These are tools designed for business but they’re getting much simpler to work with. Whether you analyze benchmarks, sports results, or anything else with a lot of data, you won’t need a doctorate to understand them.
Excel: Filter Tables
Excel isn’t a database, but that’s what most of us use it for: lists of expenses, books, wine, or anything else that is handy to have in a big table that also does sums. But once you have a long list with a lot of different items, you want to sort and filter it. Want to see all the books by a particular author? A filter lets you do that–but if you have to scroll through a list of a hundred authors to find the name, you might as well just scroll through the spreadsheet. The new filter search makes this much easier. Click on the dropdown menu you get in the header cells of the table, and instead of scrolling through the list of entries to find the one you want to show or hide, you can type in the Search box. There was a search option in Excel 2007's filters, but it was hidden away under a fly-out menu and a dialog box. But with the new version of Excel, the filter search option is right where you want it.
Translate in Documents
It’s no substitute for learning a language, but the new Office translation tool is handy for getting the gist of documents or checking phrases in foreign languages. You can send a whole document for translation in the browser, translate a selection in the research pane, or use the new Mini-Translator for text that is right inside the document. The tools are on the Review tab in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel and on the Message tab in Outlook (although only Word has all three tools). Pick a language and select a word or phrase to get a translation (for individual words, you get the whole dictionary entry, including grammar tips and related words). Office can now handle a wide range of languages, including right-to-left writing.
Sharing in OneNote
OneNote is now in every version of Office and Microsoft has added several features for sharing notebooks. OneNote bolds pages in a notebook that you haven't looked at before–just as Outlook puts unread messages in bold. However, this isn't particularly useful when you're the only person using your notebook. In fact, it's a little disconcerting when you access the same notebook on different machines. But when you're collaborating in OneNote with other people or accessing centralized information (imagine having information about how to change what account your salary is paid to or book meeting rooms at work in a company OneNote notebook), it makes it much easier to see what's new and where there are changes you need to take a look at.
Search in OneNote
OneNote has always had a fairly good search tool, but it wasn’t particularly fast and it didn’t help you find multiple matches on one page. Now you get matches as you type, with pages you've used recently highlighted at the top, followed by pages where the title matches and then pages where the content matches. If the first match on the page isn’t what you’re after, there’s a new "find-in-page" option for the search that jumps through all the matches on a page (which are also highlighted).
The new quick-filing option also helps you find things in OneNote. When you use Send To OneNote from your browser or the OneNote printer driver (which Office annoyingly makes your default printer), then a new dialog pops up asking which notebook you want it in, with recently used notebooks at the top and a list you can search by typing rather than clicking and scrolling. Little improvements like this make OneNote a lot more useful.