Everyone is still reeling from the recession, and cash is tight -- not, perhaps, the best time for Microsoft to launch a new version of its ubiquitous Office productivity suite. Nevertheless, with Office 2010, Microsoft continues to refine the dramatic overhaul that it began with the 2007 editions, while adding a few nifty new features with marquee appeal -- all at prices much lower than we saw for similar Office 2007 packages.
The most immediately visible innovation in the new suite is a set of Web-based applications -- online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote -- slated to appear on Windows Live when the desktop editions ship in June. For businesses that want to host their own Office Web Apps privately, Microsoft will also offer SharePoint versions of the online suite.
But while Office Web Apps enable at least minimal collaboration -- and while they shine at maintaining document formatting that competing, third-party Web-based apps tend to mangle -- they're unlikely to bowl over anyone who has enjoyed the rich features in Google Docs, Zoho Office, and various other Web-based productivity tools (see "Microsoft's Web Apps: Easy access and limited functionality"). In fact, they're not intended to: Microsoft has clearly stated that it created Office Web Apps as companions to, rather than replacements for, their desktop counterparts.
Still, we probably can thank the online competition for the significant declines in Office suite prices: Three years ago, the Standard Edition, containing Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, debuted with a suggested retail price of $399; the price for Office 2010 Home and Business, which includes those four apps plus the note-taking program OneNote, now costs as little as $199 (see "Suite deals: Skip the CD, get a discount"). OneNote is now present in all editions of Office, and Microsoft has tightened that program's integration with the other apps to make transferring material to OneNote easier.
In general, the shipping version of the suite isn't much different from the Office 2010 beta we wrote about last year. Some of the new features should impress even jaded Office users; PowerPoint's Broadcast Slide Show function, which lets you show a presentation remotely to anyone with a Silverlight-enabled browser, heads the list.