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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For individual users, these and other collaboration features are made possible through Microsoft's Windows Live online hub. But for business users, the real heart of Office 2010's new networked capabilities is SharePoint Server 2010, which plays host to workgroup functions behind the firewall. Tellingly, the Groove client has been renamed SharePoint Workspace in Office 2010, and workspaces can now be hosted on a SharePoint Server as well as shared peer-to-peer.

Presence seems to be another hot topic for Microsoft, and support for presence information is available in all Office 2010 applications via the Backstage view, provided you're running Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2.

[ Keep pace with the latest Microsoft technologies in the Enterprise Desktop and Enterprise Windows blogs. ]

But the most eyebrow-raising additions to Office 2010 will surely be the forthcoming, Web-based versions of Excel, Word, OneNote, and PowerPoint. Unfortunately, these were not available for review during the technology preview, but Microsoft says they will launch when the final version of the suite ships. Microsoft claims absolute document fidelity between the online and desktop versions of the Office 2010 apps. If true, this will be a huge step, as among other benefits it will allow users to open Office documents even if they don't own the correct version of the suite. Microsoft says mobile versions of the suite will also be available by Office 2010's formal launch.

So will it be worth it?
Office is the reigning king of business productivity software, so in a sense there's little point in discussing the wisdom of each new upgrade. You'll be using the latest version sooner or later. But when and how to make the transition?

Even more than Office 2007, Office 2010 represents Microsoft's latest thinking in user experience. It meshes well with Vista, but the Ribbon-based application windows seem like alien visitors on an XP desktop (and you can forget about the Windows Classic theme). The Office 2010 apps don't seem to need any more memory than the 2007 versions, but if you can't stand the modern Windows look and feel, this release may not be for you.

More importantly, it's worth considering the issue of lock-in. Office 2010's collaboration features sound exciting, but they rely heavily on SharePoint Server, Office Communication Server, Exchange, and other Microsoft back-office products. There are no drop-in replacements for any of these offerings, open source or otherwise. Once you're in, you're in.

That said, Microsoft isn't taking competition in the office productivity software market lying down. Office 2010 looks to be another solid release that further streamlines the suite's look and feel, while adding a host of new features and improvements that should be of particular interest to workgroups and networked enterprises.

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