At its Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft previewed the Office 2010 productivity suite. And it shows that Redmond is responding to the challenge of Google Docs with a full browser-based office suite that expands on Office 2007.
If you hated the ribbon-based menu system MS baked into parts of the old Office package, then this is bad news—because the ribbon is back with a vengeance, and is now running throughout the entire productivity suite. The key features do sound pretty cool though:
- Word is getting a hover-to-preview pasting system which lets you see what a cut and paste will look like before accepting it.
- Excel's biggest treat is Sparklines, a system that inserts tiny graphs into a single cell, demonstrating how the data in the cell trends in time, for example.
- Outlook has the ribbon menu and a tweaked UI that shows time-based email conversations more simply, and gives you the option to ignore a message thread in its enhanced search functions.
- Powerpoint's new trick is in-program basic movie editing functions, which should greatly simply inserting clips in media-rich presentations. It also now lets you export your entire presentation as a movie with voice annotations—a handy tool for giving the audience a take-away version of a presentation.
Office 2010 is primarily an evolution of Office 2007, which is what you'd expect since the prior version took such big departures from the past format. The key differences are a more harmonious menu system, and the inclusion of lots of collaborative working tools. In Word, for example, if someone else edits the document you're viewing, then Word will alert you to the fact, and suggest you sync the documents to see the new version.
But Microsoft's also releasing—as expected—a cloud-based Office 2010 suite that runs in-browser (much like Google Docs). It's not quite as powerful as its desktop software cousin, but it runs in all major browsers—Excel is shown in this image—and it has one major plus: It's free. Coming from famously money-grubbing Microsoft that's astonishing news. The package won't cost if you access it via Windows Live, and as such, it may be advertising-supported...but it's still excellent news for students and people who need to access MS-formatted documents just occasionally. The Web-based versions have just been given a quick public airing by MS at the conference, but the technical details are being kept under wraps for now.
That could mean one of two things: The browser-based software is underwhelming, and its basic feature set may disappoint many potential users. Or it could merely mean that MS is still working on the details, and isn't keen to leak out too much information that a competitor like Google could begin to rival ahead of the product's launch. And that launch date is a vague-sounding first half of next year.