What's in store for Office 2010?

The new version of Microsoft's productivity suite features tighter integration with SharePoint, making it a boon for collaboration

The big trend for applications in 2010 can be summed up in one word: collaboration. Nowadays, it's not enough for an app to help workers do their job; apps must also let workers work with each other and easily share information. Microsoft has clearly gotten the message, as Office 2010 will provide a big boost in collaboration abilities.

Paul West of SharePoint 360 has plenty of experience with Microsoft technology, having been a part of the Microsoft Early Adopters Program for years. Recently, they were given a sneak peek at Office 2010 and immediately saw a slew of upgrades aimed squarely at helping Office users collaborate as effortlessly as possible via SharePoint.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Salesforce.com is also riding the collaboration wave, recently expanding the scope of Chatter, which aims to make enterprise apps more like Facebook. ]

West saw upgrades in four key areas: Information management in Office, Outlook's new compatibility with IT systems, project management compatibilities, and the elimination of code from collaboration management. The general theme of the upgrades is in line with the big collaboration trend: Office 2010 helps workers collaborate without having to bring the IT shop into the mix to create code or otherwise facilitate that collaboration.

"What we're seeing is a lot more power to the end user," says West. "Office is interacting with itself better without changing the user-facing functionality too much." By allowing Office 2010 to tap into back-end data, Microsoft has made the entire Office suite a tighter-knit package, and SharePoint is becoming Office's central hub.

West notes that the Save As window, for example, is so seamlessly linked to SharePoint that people can be centralizing their docs and saving it to SharePoint without even realizing it. Whereas before you had to upload it to a SharePoint site via FTP, the Save As function now makes this happens seamlessly.

Also, users can now add metadata to Office documents from inside the doc, and that metadata will populate in SharePoint. "The metadata aspect is huge," says West. "When you create Office docs, you'll see a new band that asks you to tell it what project the document is for, what type of document, that sort of thing. Before that person can save the doc, they have to fill out that info, forcing users to maintain good document management practices."

Another key upgrade is the ability for users to tap into back-end databases create their own workflow without having to do any coding. For example, a business analyst using Visio to sketch out a desired workflow. This information can be imported into SharePoint as a Visio chart, and SharePoint will then generate the necessary code. As West notes, this process used to be a full-on development project, but now, it can be done by end-users with no coding required. Similarly, a new tool called Dashboard Designer lets users create their own dashboards without requiring a team of developers.

Database integration makes a big difference for Outlook as well. If, for example, a user edits an Outlook contact, Outlook can write those changes back to the central database so that the next time somebody else opens up that contact in Outlook, they see those changes. Users don't have to do anything extra to share the updated information; Outlook's back-end integration makes it happen automatically.

To best take advantage of all these collaboration upgrades requires some solid up-front planning about who has what permissions, but once the permission architecture is in place, Office 2010 reduces the burden on IT staff by letting users directly tap into back-end data without needing to call on a developer. In fact, much of Office 2010's integration is seamless enough that end users will hardly notice it, and they won't have to modify their work habits much to take advantage of it.

This story, "What's in store for Office 2010?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Microsoft Office, and read more of Pete Babb's Killer Apps blog at InfoWorld.com.

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