Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Office 2010 Beta Review Part 2 - The Improvements

Yesterday I complained about the things that have been driving me crazy with the Office 2010 Beta. To be clear, a Beta is expected to have bugs - it's a form of software quality testing where you get lots of people banging away on your software and hopefully uncover issues before it formally goes to market. However, my experience with Microsoft products has always been that they're largely bug-free at the Beta Test stage, so to find a piece of software with such a wide range of problems is hugely surprising and disturbing to me. Perhaps as some sort of karmic retribution, I experienced an entirely new problem after publishing the first part of my review. As I was typing in a document, Word let me type and type right down off the bottom of the window without ever adjusting to let me actually see the text I was creating. I had to manually scroll the page. Nuts, huh?

But for today's article, let's assume that all of these bugs have been fixed. I reported nearly all of them (except yesterday's - it's kind of late at this point, since the software is already available to corporate subscribers), so we should hope they'll be purged from the final product, right? Yeah, I don't know either, but let's operate on that assumption anyway.

Today - the reasons I liked Office 2010

Office is actually Microsoft's cash-cow. They make more money off of Office than practically everything else they do combined. As such, it was a little bit surprising that they made so few real improvements for the better part of a decade. From Office 95 through Office 2003, each new version was a largely incremental upgrade. In fact, most of the companies I've worked for skipped at least one version because it just wasn't worth the hassle of upgrading. Well, Office 2010 is a little bit like that, to be honest. It's definitely an evolutionary change rather than the revolutionary change we got with Office 2007.

But Office 2007 was so brilliant, that coming along with a version that corrects its few key deficiencies is worthwhile. Office 2007 tipped over the apple cart, dramatically changing the software's interface and even creating a new file-storage format that's supposed to result in much smaller documents. File size bloat had been one of Office's problems for many years, so this was a welcome change. Likewise, powerful programs like Word had a dizzying array of features and functions, but many of them were buried so deeply that most people didn't know where to find them. For those power-users like me who did know where they were, it was sometimes too much of a hassle to dig down into the menus, sub-menus and property sheets to use them. Office 2007 put it all right out there on the ribbon where you could find it (once you got used to the changes).

But Office 2007 wasn't perfect. For one thing, certain applications like Outlook didn't get the memo on the updates - they went merrily along without the new features that were so exciting and revolutionary. Office 2010 corrects that by giving every application - including Outlook and OneNote - the Ribbon.

One of the other big changes in Office 2007 I didn't care for as much - the all-powerful file menu was removed in favor of the obscure and inscrutable Office Menu Button - a round button with a squiggle in it that most users easily overlooked as just window-dressing. Office 2010 wisely gives back the file menu, which it locates right in the classic position at the upper-left of the screen, alongside the names of the different Ribbon tabs. Now, here's a caution - looking up "Office 2010 screenshots," several of them showed not a File menu item in that location, but a return to the inscrutable "office symbol," so who knows what's going on. I can't tell if those shots were taken before or after the Beta that I've been using. Anyway, I thought it was a big improvement and if they've backed away from it in the finished version, I think that's a huge mistake.

My other favorite feature also crosses all applications - the upgraded "paste" button. There's a little menu under the Paste button on the ribbon, now, that lets you select between options such as a regular paste, paste as an image, or my favorite - paste text only. When I'm copying and pasting between the web and a document, for instance, I usually want to ditch the colors, fonts, sizes and hyperlinks and just get the raw text. Now it's super-easy. I can either preemptively click the "paste text only" button, or I can use the little pop-up menu that appears after I paste and click the option from there after the fact. Either way, it's a BIG improvement for me, and one I use all the time.

Application-by-application, here are some of the other things I liked:

I've used OneNote very extensively over the last five months, and I found very little that I didn't like. I strongly recommend it to writers or anyone who needs to keep track of massive amounts of research, notes, or other written information. It has a new file-format that's not compatible with prior versions of OneNote, which is sad, but the new format included some really nice features, like added levels of indentation to the tabs along the right-hand side, allowing for more intricate classification of whatever you're taking notes about.

The File Menu has some terrific features, including a print-preview that's built into a whole list of print options. The right-click menu continues to evolve as well, placing useful features right where you can get to them quickly. The research tools have also been beefed up and are tightly tied to the right-click menu, making it really easy to be sure you're getting the words you want. I'd like to see the the thesaurus and dictionary expanded to include some of the more uncommon words that writers like to sprinkle into their work, as sometimes when I've used them I've found that they didn't represent well on the thesaurus list or, in some cases, the dictionary didn't even know what to make of them.

The addition of the Ribbon is the biggest improvement you'll see in Outlook, but it has some nice additions as well. One of the more notable new features is the way that Outlook now allows users to group messages into "conversations" for a more granular level of control.

Those were the three apps I used enough to feel comfortable commenting on them, and I have to acknowledge that I really didn't spend a lot of time with Outlook. Office 2010 is another evolutionary update to this software, which is probably OK. If every version is a radical change, people are going to get annoyed. I certainly heard my share of whining and complaining about the Office 2007 upgrade. But the improvements in 2010 are smart, appropriate, and, in many cases, are features you'd wish they'd included in Office 2007 in the first place. Each individual will need to decide if the improvements are worth shelling out 500 bucks for (I sure wouldn't), but there are certainly some good changes there to look at. If you're not on 2007 already, then 2010 is probably the right time to dive in and make the switch.

No comments:

Post a Comment