Office 2010 looks solid and smooth

Microsoft's technical preview packs a streamlined look and feel, co-authoring and collaboration hooks, and numerous refinements, with the promise of Office Web apps to come

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Piling on the features
Feature bloat is a perennial criticism leveled at Microsoft Office, and the new version continues the tradition of adding various new capabilities, both to individual applications and across the suite. Users may well ask how many features you really need in a spreadsheet or a word processor, but as Joel Spolsky once observed, although 80 percent of users probably only use 20 percent of an application's features, it's a different 20 percent for each user. While most of us could likely do without any of the latest additions, somewhere there's a user who has been dying for each one.

Office 2010 brings a number of suite-wide enhancements. One major update is 64-bit support. Access databases can now grow to gigabytes in size -- as can Excel spreadsheets, for those who like to pretend Excel is a database. Another nice global addition is Paste Preview, which gives you an interactive view of cut and paste operations: no more Paste, Undo, then Paste Special when a paste operation transfers unwanted formatting. Also, support for digital ink has been improved throughout the suite.

[ Which is the better Office alternative? See the Test Center review of 3.1 and SoftMaker Office 2008. ]

Predictably, enhanced multimedia support is a pervasive theme. You can now perform basic image editing within most Office applications, and PowerPoint even allows editing and formatting of video directly within a slideshow, in addition to sporting improved animation tools.

The revamped Outlook client supports voicemail and fax delivery to your inbox when coupled with an Exchange 2010 server, and messages can also now be organized into a condensed Conversation View, which resembles threaded message boards. In addition, Outlook 2010 introduces a Quick Steps section of the Ribbon that helps to streamline multistep tasks, such as filing and archiving.

Nifty new features for Excel include Sparklines, which are small graphs that can be inserted into cells to display trends, as well as various improvements to Pivot Table functions.

Networking and collaboration is king
By far the most significant changes, however, stem from Microsoft's ongoing efforts to elevate Office from a humble desktop productivity suite to a fully networked workgroup infrastructure system. Communication and collaboration features are now baked into every application in the Office 2010 family.

For example, new co-authoring features in Excel, OneNote, and Word allow you to publish documents for collaboration, where individual team members can "check out" different sections of the same document for editing. Similarly, PowerPoint users can now broadcast their slideshows over the Internet: No more sending slide stacks as e-mail attachments for long-distance presentations.

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