Can Microsoft hit back-to-back home runs?
The Office team has to be feeling some heat as they hang around the on-deck circle waiting for Windows 7 to release to manufacturing (in “late July,” according to a press release last week). With today’s announcement of a Technical Preview release of Office 2010 at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, it’s pretty clear that Microsoft is taking a mighty cut. But only time will tell whether they’ve crushed it.
My colleague Mary-Jo Foley has a good overview of today’s announcement. I’ve had a copy of the Technical Preview release of Office 2010 running here for about a week, so I can offer some very tentative first impressions (and an image gallery) based on my hands-on experience.
See Office 2010 in action in this screenshot gallery.
But before I get to those details, here’s the view from the top of the stands:
One smart decision the Office team made is to trim the number of Office editions. Currently, Office 2007 is available in a mind-boggling eight editions. For Office 2010, Microsoft plans to cut the Ultimate and Enterprise editions as well as the OEM-only Basic edition. That will reduce the total number of Office editions to five, two for enterprise customers and three for home and small business users. The new Office lineup, from bottom to top, goes like this:
What can you expect from Office 2010? Based on my limited testing so far, I can point to three major areas of improvement:
A lot of what’s new is aimed at enhancing usability. The Ribbon interface is now part of every Office program, including Outlook, Publisher, and OneNote, which used the old-style menu/toolbar combos in Office 2007. The Ribbon is far more customizable in Office 2010 as well, offering the capability to add and remove buttons and even create your own custom tabs. And a new feaqtuer called Backstage mode is designed to replace many previously complex dialog boxes.
Speaking of OneNote, it gets elevated to a starring role in this release—and it’s about time. In Office 2007, OneNote was part of the entry-level $150 Home and Student edition and the $680 Ultimate edition but was left out of every edition in between. For 2010, Microsoft is bullish enough on OneNote to make it a part of every edition. As Microsoft’s Bryant told me, “We think people will have OneNote open all the time just like they do with Outlook.”
And finally, there’s a slew of new collaboration features I couldn’t test easily. Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote all offer co-authoring features where two or more people can work on a project simultaneously and see their changes in real-time. There are also some slick-looking mail management features in Outlook, including the capability to trim repetitive message text from long e-mail threads and to “ignore” threads where you’re on the CC list but not really involved.
Microsoft has previously announced that a public beta release of Office 2010 will be available later this year, with the final release due in the first half of 2010.