Has Microsoft got it right this time? PC Advisor tests and rates Microsoft Office 2010, and explains whether you should upgrade. Updated, May 20 2010.

Microsoft Office 2010: the history

Back in the 1990s, Microsoft Office still seemed new and exciting. Users were amazed by its powers: it highlighted typos, suggested grammatical changes and automatically recognised when you needed an accent on a foreign word or needed to renumber a PowerPoint list. It could do your sums for you and create graphs from sets of figures. It could even supply presentation handout notes as aides-memoires. See also: Office 2013 review.

Back then the Office productivity suite of tools was almost universally used and widely admired (a few security exploits notwithstanding). Encouraged by the praise heaped on what was to become the most successful program of its type, Microsoft added more and more features and bulked out the number of programs and variety of editions customers could choose from. The result: too much choice and too much bloat, cried commentators.

In the days of Windows XP, a feature-laden copy of Office Professional was accused of taking up far more than its share of system resources. With less than 1GB of RAM powering the programs on the average home PC, the dictionaries and templates, Clippy the assistant and the context-based help began to rile consumers who simply wanted to type a letter or fill in their household expenses spreadsheet.

Microsoft responded to the criticism by reining in Office’s intrusions. Microsoft Office 2007 saw the introduction of a ribbon menu that made it easier to get to the items related to your current task, rather than interrupting you to check that you are doing things Microsoft’s way. Intended to be a less overblown take on Office, however, the 2007 version was berated for making unnecessary alterations to a largely successful interface. Many people never upgraded from Office 2003, while plenty still use earlier versions.

Microsoft Office 2010 Word

With Office 2010, Microsoft hopes to find us all on the same electronic page. It’s cut back on the number of versions, with home and non-business users offered a single Office Home and Student Edition. It’s given the constituent programs in Office a uniform look (Outlook’s design lagged behind the other main programs), it’s made a concerted effort to add web-based elements into the mix and it’s allowed plenty of time for both closed beta testers and the general public to try out Office 2010’s various features and provide feedback on them.

To this end, Office 2010 has been available as a free beta download for the past six months. That’s given Microsoft plenty of time to gather valuable feedback from users about what does and doesn’t work, and to iron out any glitches that may have been uncovered.

In mid-April 2010, Microsoft announced that it had completed this process and was ready to start rolling out its office suite in time for a June launch. But the trial version was still available as we went to press, so it’s not too late to try before you buy.

As you’ll learn from our reviews over the following pages, we think many readers will want to become Microsoft Office 2010 users. Should you agree, we’ve got some advice on how to go about doing so for free or on the cheap.

NEXT: suite-wide Office changes >>

Click here for our review of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps.

 

Has Microsoft got it right this time? PC Advisor tests and rates Microsoft Office 2010, and explains whether you should upgrade.

Microsoft Office 2010: Suite-wide Office changes

Microsoft has made a number of changes to the entire Office 2010 suite, notably to the ‘ribbon’ menu system. Although not universally welcomed when it debuted in Office 2007, the ribbon has now had some subtle changes that make it more palatable.

However, it still requires some getting used to if your experience of Office to date has been of drop-down menus and sub-menus rather than tabbed panes, each with their own context-based menu options.

Ribbons on everything

In Office 2007, Microsoft made the most drastic change to Office in years with the introduction of the ribbon, which replaced Office’s menus and submenus with a graphical system that groups buttons together for common tasks in tabs. But Microsoft hedged its bets to a certain extent, because Outlook, OneNote, SharePoint and Publisher didn’t get the full Ribbon treatment. In Office 2010 the ribbon rules among all Office applications, making for a more consistent feel and easier navigation.

Many people will also appreciate the control over the ribbon that Office 2010 provides. You can customise it to a remarkable degree by adding or taking away features from individual tabs, hiding tabs, moving tabs to different locations, and even renaming tabs. Newcomers to the ribbon concept will probably find it helpful to visit the File, Help menu and choose Getting Started. Click on the option from the web page that pops up to see which ribbon options in Office 2010 (or 2007 if you have that version with a view to a future free upgrade) relate to the shortcuts you may be familiar with from Office 2003 or earlier.

Microsoft Office 2010 Outlook

Backstage View takes centre stage

Another new feature, Backstage View, appears when you click the File button on any Office application. Microsoft has sensibly decided to dump the Office orb button that was positioned top left of most Office 2007 applications, admitting that most users didn’t realise it was a toolbar button rather than merely decorative. Go to File and you’ll be given multiple document management and creation options (but you can simply press Ctrl, N for a new document of the same type).

Backstage View is an all-purpose way to perform common tasks such as saving, printing, sharing or gathering information about documents. It is a useful new feature that brings together important but disparate functions that previously were either hard to get to or were found in multiple locations. We found it a bit odd that from the File view you have to click on the Home tab (or press the Recent button and click on the item required) to go back to your document, however.

What you see in Backstage View varies depending on the application you’re in. For example, when using it in Word, you can open, save, close and print files; prepare a document for sharing; change document permissions; check versions of the document and much more. In Outlook, you can modify your email settings, clean up and archive your mailboxes, create rules, save files, save attachments and print.

Save and send options

One of Backstage’s most powerful features is the ‘Save & Send’ choice. This gives you various options for sharing a file with others. In Word you can send your current file as an email, save it to a SharePoint server, save it to your SkyDrive account or publish it as a blog post. In PowerPoint, you can also broadcast your presentation over the web (more on that later) or package your presentation into a playable CD.

Backstage View is also extensible, so that third parties can build add-ins for it. Your bank might develop a Backstage View add-in that lets its customers grab information from their accounts and import it into Excel.

NEXT: Word 2010 >>

Click here for our review of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps.

Has Microsoft got it right this time? PC Advisor tests and rates Microsoft Office 2010, and explains whether you should upgrade.

Microsoft Office 2010: Manage Versions

Another element we like in Office 2010 is the version control. This allows you to go back through the history of a document and select a version to work on that is not necessarily the very latest one.

Office automatically saves your work as you go (regardless of whether you ask it to) and offers you any of these manually or auto-saved versions when you go to File, Manage Versions. However, we found that Word had not created any autosave versions of our two-page document even though it was 40 minutes from its creation to the first point at which we saved its contents.

Nonetheless, the principle is sound, and means that you don’t necessarily need to worry about making edits to a document and then changing your mind – or, in theory, about accidentally losing a document.

Microsoft Word 2010

You’d think the formatting, spellchecking and grammar-checking, graphics support and linguistic add-ons for Word 2003 and Word 2007 were sufficient for most people’s needs, but Microsoft has found  ways to refine even this advanced program.
Office 2007 saw Word getting an overhaul thanks to the ribbon interface; and the interface is arguably more important in Word than it is in the other applications, since the word processor was always the most feature-laden of the programs in the suite.

Microsoft intended the ribbon – a flowing menu list that dynamically changes what’s on offer depending on the tasks you’re doing – to make the program appear more streamlined and make it faster to find the items you want. Long-time Word users found this toolbar and menu rearrangement a pain, but other users report that the ribbon aids productivity, as Microsoft planned. In fact, feedback about the ribbon toolbar in Office 2010 has generally been positive.

Enhanced text control

The toolbar has been refined for the 2010 version, adding options for how everyday actions such as cut and paste are handled. Rather than simply importing the formatting from the original document, you can now choose whether the target document or original’s formatting should be used (or neither). Hovering the cursor over the text
in question lets you preview the effects.

There’s also better typographic control, with the ability to call up OpenType options via an Advanced font pane. New font-manipulation options allow you to add ligatures and choose from several style sets. More adventurous designers will appreciate the Text Effects pane, which lets you apply effects such as fills and outlines. Word is now more of a desktop-publishing application, letting you get creative with text characters and then edit the text afterwards. Word Art let you make basic 3D characters but didn’t allow you to make post-design changes. Office 2010 Professional users will find these options replicated in Publisher 2010.

Microsoft Office 2010 Excel

Other changes

Images can be edited within your Word document too and you are no longer limited to the word processing template strictures about image placement. As well as resizing and adjusting the alignment and the way the text wraps around embedded images, you get granular control over brightness and contrast, and can make the graphic greyscale.

Output options have been extended too. The Backstage View that’s common to the Office 2010 suite here provides access to Send & Save sharing options so you can blog, email, share to your Office Web Apps or SharePoint Server account or upload to SkyDrive for backup as well as the usual print options. Add-ins for Backstage View should mean extra functions are offered over time.

Searching documents becomes easier with a useful Navigation Map (a revision to the Document Map available in Office 2007) that appears on the left when you initiate a search. This functions like the thumbnail views you get in Adobe Reader or Acrobat and makes it much easier to find your way through lengthy documents. Results from keyword searches appear highlighted in the main screen, while you can also view a list of headers and graphics and charts.  

Finally, metatags and additional Properties information attached to files makes for improved version control and security.

As with the rest of Office 2010, cohesion and the ability to quickly and easily share information are the selling points of Word 2010. The heavyweight word processor already offered an excellent thesaurus, multi-lingual dictionary and symbol and special character support. Now Microsoft has given back control of the formatting and layout options that Word 2007 tried to take. The results are overall rather pleasing.

NEXT: What's new in Excel >>

Click here for our review of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps.

Has Microsoft got it right this time? PC Advisor tests and rates Microsoft Office 2010, and explains whether you should upgrade.

Microsoft Excel 2010 review

Excel hasn’t been touched as much as the other major programs in Microsoft Office 201, but it shares the Office 2010-wide makeover that sees the Start button at the top left replaced with a far more straightforward File drop-down menu, the Backstage View we’ve outlined elsewhere, and some enhanced search and display tools. Given Excel’s statistical nature, we welcome the inclusion of visual tools to help make sense of the datasets.

Microsoft Excel 2010: Sparklines

The most notable such feature is called Sparklines. These are small cell-sized charts that you can embed in a worksheet next to data to get a quick visual representation of the data. This, says Microsoft, makes it easier to spot trends and to act on what they’re showing you. Combined with cleverer search tools, it’s a real step forward in terms of having Excel show what you mean.

For example, if you had a worksheet that tracked the performance of several dozen stocks, you could create a Sparkline for each one that graphed its performance over time, in a very compact way.

Microsoft Office 2010 Excel

Microsoft Excel 2010: Other changes

We also like Excel’s new ‘slicers’ tool. Here, built-in applets let you easily filter and display data and create dashboards that can track many pieces of data visually.

Conditional formatting – the ability to apply a format to a range of cells, and then have the formatting change according to the value of the cell or formula – has been improved as well, including the addition of more styles and icons.

As with other Office 2010 applications, Excel has new tools for sharing data with other people, including multiple people working on a document at a time. There’s even a tool to make smart art of the headers and make important parts of your document stand out, plus an option to check through the contents for appropriate descriptive tags if it’s to be posted online.

Microsoft Excel 2010: PowerPivot

Data hounds may be interested in a downloadable add-on called PowerPivot. Formerly known as Project Gemini, this enhanced PivotTable can handle massive amounts of data, including worksheets with hundreds of millions of rows. Without it, Excel would choke on that amount of data and not be able to load and analyse it.

PowerPivot can be acquired from powerpivot.com and is aimed at larger businesses. If it’s to be used with a SharePoint Server, then you’ll need SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition.

NEXT: Outlook 2010 >>

Click here for our review of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps.

Has Microsoft got it right this time? PC Advisor tests and rates Microsoft Office 2010, and explains whether you should upgrade.

Every new version of every piece of software we review promises to be a productivity enhancer. Outlook 2010 is the rare one that actually delivers. It does this by focusing on the everyday problems most of us face when working with email, and it starts with a basic problem: email overload.

Outlook 2010: A little more Conversation

The previous version of Outlook allowed you to see threads of a single conversation, but it was so awkward it served very little purpose. It was grudgingly used or ignored.

Outlook 2010’s new Conversation View makes it easy to follow a continuing email conversation with one or more people. It puts a small triangle next to every email that has more than one message in a thread. Click the triangle to see a chronological list of every message in the conversation.

Conversation View can show messages you’ve sent as well as received, and offers a quick and simple way to follow entire conversations. No longer will you have to hunt through multiple folders on multiple dates. This feature can save hours of work.

It has to be said, however, that Conversation View can sometimes be a little confusing. When you click the triangle, for example, you won’t see all the messages in the conversation – you’ll see messages you’ve received, but not sent. You need to click again to see messages you’ve sent.

It also has some anomalies that need to be fixed. It groups all messages with the same subject line together, which can cause problems – if you’ve used the subject line ‘Long time, no speak’ with several different people, it will group all those messages from separate conversations into a single one.

Outlook 2010: Other changes

Clean Up and Ignore are two other useful additions. Clean Up sweeps through a conversation and deletes any messages within messages that are redundant (for example, Reply messages that replicate the previous 25 messages).

The Ignore feature is also useful, if potentially dangerous. It enables you to withdraw from an email trail or round-robin mail list by automatically deleting any further items in that conversation thread.

Outlook Social Connector helps you manage email better, and turns Outlook into a centralised communications hub for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter too.

The Outlook Social Connector appears as a horizontal pane, called the People Pane, at the bottom of each message and acts as a kind of command central for your communications with people in Outlook. It shows your most recent communications with the person in question, from emails and meetings to RSS feeds and social network updates. It’s also ideal for keeping track of business dealings with a contact.

Another notable Outlook addition is Quick Steps, which can speed up email handling by automating tasks. Essentially an email filter, it helps you manage your inbox by automatically flagging messages from your boss as ‘important’, for example, while saving messages from friends into a folder that you deal with during quieter moments. The feature includes several prebuilt Quick Steps, but you can easily create your own.

As elsewhere in the Office 2010 suite, improvements to search are invaluable. You can now use multiple search criteria, saving you hours trawling through messages on the same theme from the same person, scanning desperately for that one critical detail the other messages lack.

We also like the fact that Outlook’s Backstage View gives you quick access to your email account settings, so you can easily handle tasks such as setting up a new email account or managing the .pst file size.

Outlook 2010: Pitfalls and disappointments

Finally, however, we have a few caveats to point out. Firstly, the nature of Outlook means it sucks up all your messages and takes over, which is bad news if you want to try out the 2010 edition and later revert to the old one. It’s possible but tricky.

A further issue is that your existing Outlook add-ins may not work with this version of Outlook, while the calendaring options aren’t as good as you would expect, given that the job of an email management program is partly to help you organise your time and meetings. For instance, Google Calendar Sync, which synchronises your Google Calendar and Outlook calendar, won’t work in Office 2010.

 NEXT: Powerpoint >>

Click here for our review of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps.

Has Microsoft got it right this time? PC Advisor tests and rates Microsoft Office 2010, and explains whether you should upgrade.

Microsoft Powerpoint 2010

Microsoft has really gone to town in its efforts to improve PowerPoint. More templates and transitions are available, and you get more control over what you can do with the media elements you include.

Powerpoint 2010: Broadcast Slideshow

You can hold a webcast using the new Broadcast Slideshow feature – a compelling tool for business users who want to demonstrate their product or give their sales pitch but don’t want to lose control of their presentation by emailing it to a client.

With Broadcast Slideshow you can give your presentation but provide select viewers with an at-their-desk version that you control. Email or instant-message attendees the link for the online video session (using your Windows Live ID) and they can watch it in real time as you present. Once you end the session, the URL becomes invalid.

Powerpoint 2010: Animations, audio and video

You also get better control over how that presentation looks. A format painter allows you to add an animation or a transition at a particular point or two, rather than swamping the entire presentation with too much graphical pizzazz. Computers that have accelerated graphics will automatically offload some of the processing duties for such tasks, keeping system overheads low.

Microsoft has also ramped up the audio and video clip support, with the ability to trim, tag and adjust clips’ colour balance.

Mindful of criticism about bloated file sizes, Microsoft has added a mechanism for reducing the overall size of the multimedia presentation so it can be shared more easily. You retain the original presentation, complete with video at its original resolution, ready for when the time comes to present it.

As with the advanced print and properties information, tools to set sharing and output preferences are found under the File, Send  & Save menu.

Extraneous video clip trimmings can be discarded and the embedded video re-encoded at a lower resolution suitable for colleagues to preview and comment on before you take to the stage.

Powerpoint 2010: Home video

More and more of us are posting and sharing clips online and creating videos using camcorders and cameraphones. With PowerPoint in the Home editions of Office, Microsoft sees a demand for an easy way of making use of all this content.

Some people choose to use a package such as Microsoft’s own Movie Maker or Adobe Premiere Elements to edit and finesse their footage and package it up as a finished movie, but most of us will only ever use a handful of the tools provided in such a program. Since PowerPoint is going to end up on most Windows users’ PCs and laptops anyway, it seemed a logical step for Microsoft to include basic video-editing tools.

You can re-angle and adjust video within PowerPoint, crop photos, trim video clips and resize the screen area within the presentation slide. Any notes you make show up against the slide they relate to in the improved Navigation Pane thumbnails, and these notes can now be stored with links intact in OneNote.

Since OneNote is itself a collaborative research tool, your PowerPoint notes can be shared using the Windows Live SkyDrive and the appropriate permissions too.

Powerpoint 2010: Final thoughts

A more sophisticated but less forbidding presentation tool than ever before, PowerPoint looks like one of the highlights of Office 2010, finally stepping into the limelight as a useful application for home users too. It also allows you to embed web video directly into presentation slides for the first time.

NEXT: other applications >>

Click here for our review of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps.

Has Microsoft got it right this time? PC Advisor tests and rates Microsoft Office 2010, and explains whether you should upgrade.

Office 2010: other applications

Aside from the main four programs in Office 2010 – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook – there are two other applications that are common to most editions. These are Web Apps, which can be used for free by anyone with a Windows Live ID, and OneNote.

OneNote

Until now, OneNote was included only in the Student edition of Office and the top-end Ultimate and Enterprise editions. Now, however, Microsoft has decided that a means of making notes and being able call them up at a moment’s notice is the sort of thing lots of Windows users would like to use.

OneNote is a really useful research tool, allowing you to clip and keep snippets from the web, music and video clips and all sorts of text and annotated notes. Have an audio clip such as a speech play while you type up your notes, for example, and OneNote will add a bookmark at the point when you break off and resume there when you’re ready.

As with the rest of Office, there’s a firm emphasis on sharing and collaboration, so you can work on a research project together and pool resources. As with other Office applications, collaborative access rights can be set on an individual basis using SharePoint Workspace and Windows Live ID.

Web Apps

You’ll also need a Windows Live ID if you want to use Office Web Apps. These cover Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote and allow you to perform basic edits on the fly, accessing and saving your documents to the cloud. You get a 10GB repository, but there’s nothing to stop you creating more than one Live ID.

Publisher and Access

Further up the Office pecking order, the Business Professional and Ultimate Editions come with Publisher and Access respectively. Publisher uses many of the same tools that you’ll find in Word 2010, but takes layout and document control even further.

As well as templates to print specific but relatively unusual formats (some of which are also offered within Word), you get a range of design template for CVs, newsletters, marketing brochures, calendars and business reports. Additional templates can be accessed via the embedded web link.

You’ll find additional Save & Send options allowing you to output your completed design to a commercial printer as well as a local or networked machine. A secondary option allows you to create PDFs or Publisher’s version of a PDF-like document.

Finally, statistics can be analysed and presented using Access 2010. Tools in the latest version range from even more templates to more sophisticated filtering. Given that the application name of Access in our Professional Edition of Office 2010 comes up as 2007, however, we’d suggest business users don’t upgrade just for this component.

Microsoft Office 2010 will be offered in several different versions. You get a choice of five editions (Office 2007 came in eight editions). Microsoft says that in most cases, that choice will be between two: Home and Student or Home and Business.

But complicating matters is the fact you can get hold of each by different means. A boxed copy will cost £99 from retailers (Microsoft suggests such prices, but allows Amazon and other outlets to offer its products far cheaper). This comes on optical media and the suite can be installed on a PC and a laptop registered to each user. It can also be used to install additional copies of Office 2010 to further PCs in the family or group, as long as each has a user licence.

Additional licences can be bought on Product Key Cards. A three-user licence is cheaper than three individual ones, while businesses on the volume licensing program will see yet more savings.

NEXT: different versions of Office 2010 >>

Click here for our review of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps.

Has Microsoft got it right this time? PC Advisor tests and rates Microsoft Office 2010, and explains whether you should upgrade.

Office 2010: Get it preinstalled

Office will be preloaded on PCs made or sold by Microsoft’s partners – expect all the main manufacturers to participate, plus a few notable retailers. In fact, Microsoft says that, from the summer, vendors will be offering a basic form of Office for free with new PCs.

Office Starter Edition will offer Word and Excel, so home users can write and open emails and letters as well as other common document types and can manage their home finances. Starter Edition will have the same look and feel as other Office editions, and documents opened in Starter Edition will preserve ‘document fidelity’. As with Office Web Apps and Office Mobile, the formatting and layout will look right even if elements of the text and graphics aren’t editable.

Starter users will be able to open .docx and .xlsx documents – the extensible Word and Excel file formats introduced in Office 2007 and not universally adopted, not least because Word 2003 and other popular editions aren’t able to recognise or save to the format. Instead, a compatibility filter is required to read such files on a PC.

Since Starter Edition is simply the basic elements of Office 2010 (others are installed but hidden on the PC), it won’t be able to perform ‘media rich’ tasks – editing smart art, for example. Office 2010 Starter Edition is designed to be free and is not time-limited; should you decide you need the extra functionality, the full versions of Office will be unlockable (at a price, of course). Microsoft will prompt the Starter Edition user to do so by means of a link to the purchase and download page at Amazon or elsewhere.

Upgrade from Office 2007

Not everyone needs to pay for full-fat Office 2010. Microsoft began a scheme on 5 March whereby qualifying products in the Office 2007 range bought after this date and before the end of September will come with a voucher to upgrade at no further cost to the 2010 equivalent. To qualify you need to have bought Office Home and Student 2007, Office Small Business 2007, Office Professional 2007 or Office Publisher 2007.

The existing copy of Office 2007 (or Visio 2007) will need to have been activated and registered. Trial versions do not qualify. Microsoft says the public beta of Office 2010 that’s available on its website will timebomb once Office 2010 launches. Any documents created in this will work as usual in the final shipping version of Office.

New and old trial versions

Microsoft will also be offering a new 60-day trial version of Office 2010 for download, which will come in either two or three editions. Readers who prefer to continue using the trial version of Office 2010 they currently have will get three emails explaining that the trial is over, but there will be a grace period until at least the end of September for people to download the new version. We will be offering the 60-day trial version of Office 2010 Home and Business Edition as soon as it becomes available.

Stick with 32bit Office

Exceptionally large datasets such as the ones that can take advantage of the additional power in PowerPivot are among the few applications for which Microsoft suggests using the 64bit version of Office 2010.

As it stands, Microsoft’s recommendation is that all users install the 32bit version, even though both 32- and 64bit versions of the software are provided when you buy the product.

Microsoft’s reluctance to recommend 64bit Office installations for now is because of concerns over the handling of add-ons. Since few programs or features within the Office 2010 suite actively need 64bit processing (which can address more than 2GB of RAM at once), it makes sense to hold off on 64bit Office until it’s fully ready.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Microsoft Office 2010: Specs

  • 500MHz or higher processor
  • 256MB RAM
  • 1.5GB
  • a portion of the disk space will be freed after installation if the original download package is removed
  • 500MHz or higher processor
  • 256MB RAM
  • 1.5GB
  • a portion of the disk space will be freed after installation if the original download package is removed

OUR VERDICT

Microsoft Office 2010 is a significant upgrade from previous versions of the Microsoft productivity software suite. Cohesion and the ability to quickly and easily share information major selling points. Microsoft has given back control to the user and, combined with the massive functionality, the results are overall rather pleasing.

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