Office 2010: What Microsoft will and won't say

A new build of Office 2010 -- more recent than the Community Technology Preview (CTP) Microsoft delivered in June to a select group of testers -- allegedly has leaked. (But as of this posting, not yet leaked to the Web.)
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

A new build of Office 2010 -- more recent than the Community Technology Preview (CTP) Microsoft delivered in July to a select group of testers -- allegedly has leaked. (But as of this posting, not yet leaked to the Web.)

The new build, which, according to Wzor, is labeled "Beta 1," (Build 14.0.4417.1000) includes some updates to Office 2010's built-in Backstage document-management platform and some of the new volume-licensing-activation tweaks that company officials recently acknowledged were coming. There is also a new "upload center" in the leaked build, which could be related to Office Web Apps, the Web-ified versions of key Office apps that Microsoft is planning to release to testers this fall.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on the leak. I asked whether the allegedly leaked bits would be what Microsoft is planning to release as part of the public Beta 1 of Office 2010 due out later ths fall. A spokeswoman provided this statement in response:

"Microsoft officially released the Office 2010 technical preview in July and we are on track to deliver the public beta later this year. No additional Office 2010 code has been released by Microsoft since the technical preview. We strongly recommend that customers only download or use officially released Microsoft products, through appropriate Microsoft channels, since unofficial copies might contain malicious code."

Even though Office 2010 seems pretty well baked, there's still lots the company won't say about the release, which Microsoft execs indicated to partners will ship in May/June 2010.

However, there are a few things the Office team is willing to talk about, especially regarding the product's user-interface changes.

As Microsoft officials have said before, with Office 2010, all of the Office apps are getting the Ribbon interface. In Office 2010, OneNote, Publisher and Visio all will become "Ribbonized," as will the rest of Outlook, said Aaron Butcher, Senior Program Manager on the Office User Experience Team. The Ribbon works a bit differently with each app, so adding it isn't as straightforward a task for the User Experience team as it might seem. (The User Experience Team, a group of about 70 testers, designers, programmers and usability engineers, are the ones behind the UI changes in Office.)

"People said they would be better at their jobs if the could master Office," Butcher told me during a recent phone interview. "We wanted to help them save time and to make everyone a power user."

In spite of all Microsoft's telemetry data that company officials cite when claiming the Ribbon is a success, there are plenty of customers and potential customers out there who aren't Ribbon fans. Butcher noted that the Ribbon can be collapsed so that it takes up less room. ("Menu mode" is the closest you  an get to doing away with the Ribbon all together, Butcher said.) Additionally, with Office 2010, users will be able to create their own custom set of commands. Users will be able to hide all labels or surface even more commands using the Ribbon.

If you're holding out hope that Microsoft might completely do away with the Ribbon or offer a classic/Luddite option with Office 2010 or a future version of Office, you might want to come up for air. There are no such plans, Butcher said.

"We are really committed to the changes the Ribbon provides. Microsoft doesn't want to have to support two distinct models (a Ribbonized view and a classic mode." Plus, if we provided a classic mode, we'd be hurting developers who are building around Office," Butcher said.

The Ribbon isn't the only new UI element upon which the User Experience team is working. The aforementioned Backstage feature is part of that team's domain. The Ribbon will be applied to the Backstage view in ways that it makes sense, Butcher said. Related to the Backstage overhaul, Office's print function from scratch for the 2010 release. "There won't be three different areas you need to go to to print," Butcher said.

The User Experience team also has been instrumental in Office 2010's enhanced tool tips -- via which hovering over a specific tab will give a user a paragraph description on how to use a particular feature. And galleries -- which Butcher describes as "mini-scripts, basically dialogues and commands under a single script," is another.

What don't you know about Office 2010 that you'd like to, at this point -- other than when the heck those promised Office Web Apps are going to show up?

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