Microsoft Inc.’s Office productivity suite is the software you love to hate. Yeah, you can get a lot done with it, but the process can be clunky and painful.
Office has a reputation for being slow and bloated. And with the last version, Microsoft blew up most of the programs’ design, dropping familiar menus for a new interface dubbed the Ribbon.
Powerful tool: A file photo of customers at a Microsoft store in the US. The company has released Office 2010 to businesses recently. Roy Scuteri / Bloomberg
With Office 2010—released to businesses recently and available to consumers on 15 June—Microsoft has fixed one of those issues. This new version of Office is remarkably fast and—dare I say it?—feels light and agile.
Those who aren’t fans of the Ribbon will find only minor solace in this new release. Microsoft has extended the Ribbon to all the programs in the suite, including its Outlook email software. While there’s still no built-in way to revert to the pre-Ribbon interface, you can now customize the Ribbon. If a feature’s button doesn’t seem to be in an intuitive place, just move it.
As with earlier versions of Office, there are multiple retail editions of 2010. Home and Student costs $150 (around Rs7,000) and comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
Home and Business is $280 and adds Outlook to the mix. Office Professional is $500 and includes Publisher and Access. There’s also an academic version of Professional for just $100, but you must be a student or educator to get that price.
Unfortunately, there's no upgrade pricing. If you have an older version of Office, you won’t get a break on this one (unless you bought Office 2007 recently; then you may be eligible for a free upgrade).
Office 2010 is available in 32- and 64-bit versions. You’ll need to be running a 64-bit copy of Windows 7 or Vista to use the 64-bit version, but Microsoft suggests that most folks install the 32-bit version because of compatibility issues with some plug-ins for Office.
I’ve been testing 32- and 64-bit versions of Office on physical PCs running Windows 7 and XP and virtual systems running Windows 7 on a Mac. In all scenarios, Office 2010 is remarkably fast compared with its predecessor.
Office 2010 is too sprawling to tell you about everything that’s new, but here are some highlights in the main programs:
The email client is the most dramatically changed part of Office 2010, thanks to the addition of the Ribbon. I’ve never really liked Outlook—it was a necessary work evil—but I really love this version. I find using the Ribbon far more intuitive than Outlook’s previous menus-and-buttons interface.
Outlook can now group email threads by conversations, a long-overdue feature that makes it easy to follow discussions involving different people.
And there’s the People Viewer, which can show you all email, attachments, calendar entries and other items related to an individual. Finally, there’s the Social Connector, which can import updates from LinkedIn and MySpace. Facebook will be added soon.
If you use a lot of photos in your word processing documents, you’ll love Word’s new image features.
It will now let you grab screen shots from any application on your desktop, showing you thumbnails of what’s running as a quick way of choosing. Once you have those images, you can tweak them easily in improved picture-editing tools. My favourite new feature gives a preview of text or an object before you paste it into place.
Office’s spreadsheet program also benefits form the image-editing and copy/paste preview features. It also now gives you more graphical choices, down to the background colours of cells changing based on what happens with data. It offers one-cell graphs, called Sparklines, that can show at a glance trends for that cell over time.
Until this version, video has been something of an afterthought for PowerPoint, but new features make it easier to add it to presentations. For example, if you want to add a YouTube video, just click a button and paste in the Web address.
Is Office 2010 worth the upgrade cost? If you’re frustrated with the slowness and bloat of past versions, you’ll definitely want to consider it. Ditto if you’re a fan of the Ribbon and want to use it in Outlook. For me, the improvements in Outlook alone make Office 2010 worth having.
©2010/THE NEW YORK TIMES