Office 2010 Technical Preview: Coming in July
Microsoft showed off the Technical Preview of Office 2010 at its TechEd conference this week and announced that it will be available in July by invitation only (with a later public beta). There will be a 64-bit version as well as a 32-bit version, while server applications like Exchange and SharePoint 2010 will only come in 64-bit versions but the Technical Preview is for the desktop apps. Those will run on Windows 7, Vista, and XP SP3, and taking a leaf from the Windows 7 specification, if your PC runs Office 2007, then it will run Office 2010, Reed Shaffner, a Microsoft program manager, said. “We realize that taking advantage of the hardware you already own is just as important as supporting all the new technology coming out,” Shaffner said.
Outlook 2010: Custom Jump List
There’s no point having recent or favorite files on the Outlook Jump List in Windows 7 (although favorite folders would certainly be useful). The custom Jump List for Outlook 2010 includes actions to create a new email, appointment, contact, or task and links to the four main tools in Outlook (Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks). That means you don't have to open Outlook and then look for what you want to do and it’s one less window to contend with when you want to copy information from another app into a message.
New Mail in Outlook 2010
The icons for the Office 2010 applications haven't changed much (yet), but Outlook 2010 takes advantage of icon overlays, which is one of the features that the Windows 7 taskbar offers. Like the Windows Live Messenger next to it, which has a red mark to show that you’re not signed in, Outlook uses an icon overlay to tell you that you have new mail instead of putting another icon into the notification area (which Windows 7 would hide by default).
Outlook 2010 Gets the Ribbon
All Office 2010 applications use the new ribbon interface (officially called "Fluent," which looks like a toolbar with tabs), including Publisher, OneNote, and Outlook. The main Outlook window has four tabs: Home, Send/Receive, Folder, and View, with all the tools you’ll want frequently on the Home tab. The New email button gets pride of place, in the spot that is the easiest to get to with your mouse. Next to it is an equally large button for creating other objects. That splits the existing (small and fiddly) drop-down menu in two and makes it obvious that you don't have to switch to the Calendar window to create a new appointment. The Quick Steps section should also be a time-saver since there’s a selection of common tasks here, but Microsoft also talks about users being able to set up their own QuickStep tasks.
Outlook 2010: Drag From Jump Lists
Outlook 2007 on Vista no longer automatically opens the last folder in which you saved a document when you attach a file. If you've just finished working on a file and you want to send it with Outlook 2010, you’ll be able to save it, select it on the Jump List of that application, and drag it straight into the Outlook navigation pane to create a new email message with the file attached. This is a logical progression since you can already drag text from a document onto the Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks buttons to create new objects. But if you try this with the Mail button in Outlook 2007 in Windows 7, you end up with the file sitting in the folder to which you drag it or an error message telling you that you can’t copy the item because “the system cannot find the file specified.”
Mail Tips with Exchange
There are several utilities for Outlook that warn you if you’re hitting Reply instead of Reply All or if you're sending an exceptionally large attachment. Outlook 2010 has Mail Tips to warn you about that kind of email etiquette although many of them will only work if you're using Exchange and mailing people in the same organization. Here, you can’t send the message to one mailing list because there are subscribers who aren't cleared for the confidential information in the sales report, plus you're getting warnings that one mailing list goes to a lot of people, another mailing list is moderated, and the only real person you’re emailing is out of the office.
Search in Outlook 2010
The infobar across the top of the main Outlook window reminds you of settings that you wouldn’t want to forget, like having automatic replies or out-of-office messages set up. The search bar at the top of the Inbox is similar to the one in Outlook 2007, but with a reminder of the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-E) that puts your cursor in the search box ready to type a keyword. The icon to expand the search box to show specific filters you can pick isn't visible (it may be hidden until you click in the search box). There’s a new sort of drop-down underneath the search box to make it more obvious that you can change the sort order of the inbox, while presumably, Microsoft’s studies have shown that it's not clear that you can click the sort label and get the same result. All this may be clearer, but it also reduces the number of mail messages you can see without scrolling.
Ignore Irritating Discussions
If you’re copied on an email message, you may want to join in the discussion or you might not want to hear any more about it (especially if it’s an event you can’t make or an inappropriate email that everyone else complains about by hitting Reply All). In Outlook 2010, you’ll be able to right-click on the original email (or the first annoying reply) and choose to Ignore all the replies that arrive automatically. It’s ideal for staying on top of a lively mailing list, and like many of the features in the new Outlook, it solves a problem Microsoft employees have themselves. These messages aren’t deleted, but are marked as hidden and stay in your inbox, so if you change your mind you can go back and restore them to read later.
Writing Email in Outlook 2010
Message windows in Outlook 2007 already have the ribbon interface, but there are some changes (beyond the new-look Office button). The four ribbon tabs (Message, Insert, Options, and Format Text) are the same and the text formatting options are identical. The option for attaching a business card seems to have disappeared. The Options section is now called Tags, which avoids confusion over the separate Options tab for adding a theme or switching to plain text and stays consistent with the Tags section for categorizing incoming messages. There’s now also a new Zoom button, similar to the one that Word offers.
This new Recipients pane pops up in Outlook 2010 when you create a new message by dragging a file from a Jump List into the inbox. If you let the file drop on top of a message rather than just onto the inbox or mail button, the Recipients pane shows the details of the sender of that message. You can click on the name to address the message to them, but it’s not added by default in case you were dropping the file onto their message accidentally rather than deliberately.
Voicemail and SMS
To Outlook, a message is a message is a message and messages don’t have to be email. If you use Outlook 2010 with Exchange and you also have a Windows Mobile 6.1 smartphone that gets your email, you will be able to read and send text messages in Outlook (and in Outlook Web Access). When Exchange talks to your phone via ActiveSync (it has to be version 14 but Microsoft is considering a free upgrade to allow this to work with more phones), as well as pushing your email and collecting any replies and mails you’ve written on the phone, it can collect text messages. It can also deliver messages you’ve written on your PC to send by SMS. If you use Exchange with a system like Office Communication Server that works with a company phone system, Exchange will do voice recognition on voice mails and convert them into emails that you can read (you can play the recording in case the transcription isn’t good enough).
Outlook Web Access in Safari and Firefox
If you use Exchange, the Outlook Web client, Outlook Web Access (OWA) has always worked best in Internet Explorer, with only a "Lite" version available for other browsers. Now Firefox (on any platform) and Safari on the Mac will give you the full "Premium" experience with all the OWA features. You’ll still get Lite on Opera and Safari for Windows, while Microsoft says Safari is significantly different on Windows and not popular enough in business.
On the other hand, SharePoint 2010 will work with Internet Explorer 7, Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.x, and Safari 3.x (again only for Mac), but not Internet Explorer 6. Tom Rizzo, director of Microsoft SharePoint Server, called it a "painful decision" but many Web developers wish they could do the same thing. If the same applies to the Office Web applications, it would certainly push adoption of Internet Explorer 7 and 8.
The New Office Menu
In Office 2003, every app has the same Office menu with the same large round Office button. It’s easy to guide your mouse to it, but it’s far from obvious what it does or even that it’s going to bring up a menu at all. The Office 2010 apps all have similar buttons with the Office logo on, but they’re color-coded to remind you which app you’re using (and to match the icon for the window menu, which makes a return in this version) and the triangle makes it obvious that this is a drop-down menu. The Quick Address Toolbar is set above the Office button, suggesting that Microsoft is trying to make it easier to get at the features you choose to put there.
The only visible changes in the Technical Preview of Word 2010 (beyond the same changes to the Office button as in the other apps) are very minor artwork modifications to some icons like the paragraph indent level (there’s a similar tweak to the text orientation icon in Excel) and one new icon. This appears next to the Text Highlight Color icon, and shows a letter outlined in a blue glow. It could be the WordArt tool moving from the Insert tab to sit with the other text formatting options. Despite the minimal changes, this is obviously still early code, while twice during the demo, Word said it didn’t have enough memory to start.
Excel and PowerPoint 2010
Again, Excel and PowerPoint 2010 don’t look substantially different from the current versions, but Excel does have major new features for business intelligence, especially when combined with the next version of the SQL Server database. Usually, analyzing historical information from a large database means taking a copy of the data and calculating the relationships and trends, while Excel 2010 will be able to build that model in memory. You won’t need an exceptionally powerful machine either, as Microsoft representatives demonstrated how it was possible to analyze a database with 20 million rows on a netbook with 2 GB of memory (which means it doesn't have to be a 64-bit PC, either).
New PowerPoint mode?
Look carefully at the bottom of the Excel 2010 window and you’ll see a new icon alongside the Normal, Slide Sorter, and Slide Show icons, which looks like an open book. That’s similar to the icon for Full Screen Reading view in Word, which opens a two-page layout of your document that looks like the pages of a book. A reading view in PowerPoint could show slide transitions and animations without you having to go into the full-screen Slide Show view and click through, one slide at a time.
Fewer features in Office 2010 Web?
Microsoft hasn’t yet said exactly what will be in the free (ad-supported) Web versions of the Office 2010 apps in any detail. At the Web 2.0 conference this year, Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft business division, said it would be “functionality that makes sense" in a free offering, and that you could expect “collaborative authoring” but businesses would have to pay for integration with Sharepoint and unified comms.
We also noticed how the Web versions demonstrated last year remained works in progress (they didn't have the styling of the technical preview, for example). Still, comparing the tools in the ribbon shows that the Office 2010 Web apps that have been shown so far have far fewer features than the new Office applications that aren't free.