By Jay Garmon
Microsoft Office 2010 goes on sale this month, prompting businesses and consumers to revisit the question, "Is the latest version of MS Office worth the cost of an upgrade?" The answer, as usual, is "it depends." We break down the Office 2010 decision factors in this roundup.
Try Before You Buy
Office Starter includes very basic versions of Word and Excel, and is intended as a replacement for Microsoft Works. While you can't actually buy Office Starter, it comes preloaded on almost every new Windows PC that doesn't include a paid version of Office 2010. Microsoft can afford to give away Office Starter for two reasons: Word Starter and Excel Starter don't include any of the advanced Office functionality like macros compatibility, pivot tables or SharePoint integration; and Office Starter includes advertising. Most of the Starter ads are for more advanced versions of Microsoft Office, so if you ever get frustrated with Office Starter's limitations, your upgrade path will be fairly clear.
The Office Web Apps haven't officially launched, but most of the Excel and PowerPoint functionality is already online at Skydrive.com, and the Word and OneNote Web apps are coming soon. Like the Starter Edition, you can't perform any of the advanced (or even some of the basic) Office functions, but you can create or edit basic browser-based documents with these tools. You won't be conducting any serious publishing or number-crunching with the Office Web Apps, but they will tide you over until you decide whether you need a paid, desktop version of Office.
What's New with the Big Four?
The much-reviled ribbon interface now appears in every Office 2010 app, but the ribbon has been revised to more closely resemble the classic Office menu setup. The File menu has returned, and you can now customize the ribbon to your preferred layout.
The resurrected File menu now conveys you to Backstage, a full-screen menu of saving, printing, sharing, and customization options. While this is quite a departure from the classic Office File menu, Backstage is surprisingly useful, and allows you to easily export your documents into a variety of formats and locations, including the free Skydrive online storage service associated with the Office Web Apps.
Beyond these two major interface changes, most of the Office 2010 apps received only incremental improvements. If you are a hard-core SharePoint user, Microsoft has drastically improved SharePoint integration with each of the Office apps. Unfortunately, the vast majority of non-enterprise Office users won't notice, let alone benefit from, these marked SharePoint advancements.
Worthy of note, however, is a radical new feature in Outlook 2010 -- the Outlook Social Connector. The Social Connector integrates non-Outlook profile data into your Outlook contacts list. While SharePoint and LinkedIn are the primary Social Connector data sources right now, Facebook integration is coming soon. With just a little tweaking, Outlook 2010 can serve as a master inbox, contact list and calendar that incorporates all the friends and plans you make both within Outlook and in online social networks.
The Many Flavors of Office
There are seven versions of Microsoft Office 2010, counting Starter Edition. Only three are available at retail: Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Student, Office 2010 Home and Business, and Office 2010 Professional. Assuming Office Starter isn't sufficient for your needs, you can choose from among these three versions based on which applications you want.
Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Student includes Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010 and OneNote 2010. If you also want Outlook 2010, you need to upgrade to Office 2010 Home and Business. Looking for Microsoft Access or Microsoft Publisher? Then you'll have to shell out for Office 2010 Professional.
There are two ways of buying each retail Office edition: Product Key Cards and Boxed Full Versions. The Office 2010 Product Key Cards are just faux credit cards with Office activation codes printed on them. Enter the code at the instructed Microsoft website and your single license of Office 2010 will be downloaded to your PC. The Boxed Full Versions of Office 2010 include complete sets of installation (or, perhaps, reinstallation) CDs, printed manuals, and licenses for installing Office 2010 on two or three PCs, depending on the edition.
The Office 2010 retail editions are priced as follows:
As is usually the case with Microsoft product, if you are happy with current version of Microsoft Office, Office 2010 doesn't offer many reasons for underwriting an upgrade. Unless you are truly a SharePoint-addicted user, or live and die by your Outlook Calendar and contact list, Office 2010 just doesn't scream "must-have productivity suite." While Office 2010 fixes the vast majority of the complaints surrounding Office 2007 -- particularly some Excel macro errors and the counter-intuitiveness of the ribbon -- it holds little appeal for those of you satisfied with Office 2003. If you're committed to buying a new version of Office, then Office 2010 is certainly your best option. If you aren't underserved by your current productivity suite, Office 2010 offers few if any reasons to buy.
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