Office 2010 Public Beta
A Tour of the New User Experiences

While we can and will examine each of the Office 2010 applications in turn, I'm going to first focus on some of the user experiences that are common across the new application suite or, in some cases, apply to multiple applications. Each application in Office 2010, of course, has been improved in various ways, and some, like Outlook, even see major changes. But if you step back and look at the suite from a higher level, you'll see a number of changes that work consistently across various applications to provide a more cohesive overall experience.

This effort applies, quite literally, to everything related to Office 2010, from the new logo and icons, to the pricing and licensing, and to the actual applications themselves. In keeping with Microsoft's new Windows 7-inspired mantra, Office 2010 is simpler and more consistent, and it works well in a variety of scenarios, meeting the needs of markets as diverse as those for consumers and for high-end business intelligence work.

This is a delicate balance, and Microsoft's efforts to diversify its product offerings, generally by expanding the number of product editions, or SKUs (Stock Keeping Units), isn't always successful. (Witness Windows Vista.) But with Office 2010, the company has struck a nice balance, and for once I feel that the product lineup mix actually makes sense.


Logo and branding

For the first time since Office 2003, Microsoft has changed the Office logo, and this time it's a fairly major change. Compared to the Office 2003 and 2007 logo, the new Office 2010 logo is sharper and cleaner and, in Microsoft's words, more organic and less dated. The company did, however, stick with the core Office color, which is orange, and this color appears throughout the products, in various branding elements.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Each Office 2010 application also gets a fresh new icon, and these are particularly attractive. Each uses a unique color to denote the app in question, helping in establishing application identity, and each uses a single letter (like "W" for Word; Excel actually uses "XL") as a further cue.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

The new Office 2010 user experience isn't limited to a new logo and new icons, however. When you launch an Office 2010 application, you're greeted with a new, animated splash screen. These animations have proven quite popular with users, much more so than Microsoft expected, in fact. The key, apparently, is that the animation communicates power and performance, while providing feedback about the application boot time. And in those rare instances where something goes wrong--such as when the user clicks the wrong taskbar button--a new close gadget lets them abort the application launch if they wish.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

In Office 2007, each of the applications took on a light blue hue, and users could optionally choose from a whopping set of two additional color schemes, gray and black. Office 2010 tones down this coloring effect, removing issues where the blue UI actually detracted from the content being edited and, in some cases, visually skewed the color of graphics and charts in documents. This time around, the application UIs are more translucent on the top, providing a visual cue to the windows or desktop found beneath. And as with the individual application icons, each has a subtle color hint, mostly through the new File button (or pseudo-tab), helping to establish each application's identity.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

When you click on the File button, you're presented with the most jarring aspect of the Office 2010 user experience, the new Backstage View, which acts much like the File menu from previous Office versions but takes up the full screen instead of opening in a window. Backstage view is going to prove controversial with users, I think, but it does provide a handy front-end to the actions you need to apply to the whole document--things like Print, Save, or Share--as well as application settings. And it carries over the color branding of each Office app for consistency's sake.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

In addition to adding the ribbon to all Office applications in the 2010 versions, Microsoft has also evolved the ribbon control into a third generation version (the second-gen version is included with Windows 7) that cleans up the UI, offers better organization of ribbon tabs (where the most-often-used tabs are always on the left), and offers better consistency between applications.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Other features that span multiple applications

A number of new Office 2010 features span numerous applications. Some of the more interesting include:

Customizable ribbon

The improved Office 2010 ribbon is available across all Office applications now, including Outlook, and you can customize existing tabs or create your own.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Paste Options

A new Paste Options smart tag-like pop-up appears whenever you past text into Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, or Publisher 2010, providing you with an in-place, on-the-fly way to preview paste results, change the way paste works or change the default paste settings. This is a handy little tool that I find myself using regularly, and touch typists will appreciate that it's completely keyboard controllable, if that's what you want. (Just tap CTRL.)

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Picture editing

Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Publisher include inline picture editing so you can import a photo or other image into a document and then do your editing right in Office, thanks to a new Picture Tools: Format tab. Included on this tab are various image and color corrections, artistic effects, borders, layouts, and more.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Coauthoring

Word, Publisher and OneNote 2010 all support some form of live coauthoring capability. In Word and Publisher, you can edit a document or presentation simultaneously with one or more colleagues, assuming you all have a Microsoft-oriented instant messaging application. With OneNote, you can share notebooks with others using the standard application or the Office Web App version. I haven't had time to test this feature, but I do doubt that many people will want to simultaneously edit documents in real time.

OpenType typography

Both Word and Publisher 2010 include support for expressive OpenType fonts, which can include ligatures, stylistic sets, kerning, and other unique typographic niceties.

New product editions, new ways to buy

Looking at the Office 2010 product edition lineup, you see that Microsoft is actually doing a decent job of matching this lineup to the diverse customer groups that use Office every day. Particularly prominent and obvious here is the emphasis on home users, or consumers. Microsoft says that about 50 percent of Office users, or over 250 million people, use Office at home. "Office provides tools for your entire life," says Justin Hutchinson, the director of product management for Microsoft's consumer Office offerings. "It's not just for work."

There are now three Office product editions that target consumers. These include:

Office 2010 Home and Student. This core consumer offering includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote and is largely identical to its Office 2007 predecessor.

Office 2010 Home and Business. New to Office 2010, this edition adds Microsoft Outlook 2010 to the mix.

Office 2010 Professional. This high-end Office version, which also targets non-enterprise businesses, includes all of the applications from Office Home and Business and adds Access and Publisher.

Today, consumers can purchase Office with a new PC or buy it at retail (including electronic downloads from the Microsoft Store). But Microsoft will be enhancing purchasing options in Office 2010 to include new Click To Run and Product Key Card offerings.

Click To Run lets people download a virtualized version of Office 2010 from the Office.com web site. This Office version can begin running in 2 or 3 minutes, depending on your connection, and because it's virtualized, you can run Office 2010 side-by-side with your current Office version. (It's based on Application Virtualization, or App-V, technology.) Product Key Card ships with no media but unlocks a trial version of Office that shipped on a new PC. This is a good offering for netbooks, because they typically ship without an optical drive.

Speaking of new PCs, Microsoft will also offer a new Office edition aimed at new PCs. This is called...

Office 2010 Starter. This very low-end Office version includes stripped-down versions of Word (called Word Starter) and Excel (Excel Starter) only. These applications include a permanent taskbar and are ad supported. Microsoft is replacing Microsoft Works with this offering, and will provide ways for users to upgrade to better Office versions electronically, or by using a Product Key Card.

Office 2010 Starter is not trialware, but the apps it includes do not include all of the features found in the other editions. For example, Word Starter can't create a table of contents, offers no reviewing features, includes no smart art, and so on. Small ads appear in the lower part of the taskbar.

As for businesses, there are essentially two product editions to consider, in addition to the previously mentioned Professional edition. These include:

Office 2010 Standard. Available only via volume licensing, this version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, and Publisher. It also includes access to internally hosted versions of the Outlook Web Applications (via SharePoint 2010).

Office 2010 Professional Pro. Also available only via volume licensing, this version builds on the Standard edition and adds Microsoft Outlook 2010 with Business Contact Manager, Access 2010, InfoPath 2010, Microsoft Communicator, and SharePoint Workspace 2010.

In addition to the suite bundles, Microsoft will continue to sell all of the individual Office applications separately. And there are certainly Office family applications that will only be made available individually, including Visio Standard, Visio Professional, and Visio Premium (new to 2010).

But wait, there's more...

In the next part of this overview, I will focus on the application-specific changes to individual Office applications. Stay tuned...

Continue to Part 3: Office for Consumers: Starter Edition & Click-2-Run