By Jay Garmon
Microsoft Word 2010 is the crown jewel of the latest version of MS Office, but has the world's best-known word processor evolved enough to justify an upgrade? We break down the best of Word's newest improvements to help you make the call.
Before I begin, it needs to be made clear that most of the improvements I describe below don't appear in Word Starter Edition or the Word Web App. Those versions of Microsoft Word are free, and thus don't come with most of the new Office trimmings.
Microsoft Word 2007 enraged a great many users by drastically revamping the program interface that had remained largely unchanged - and was thus innately familiar -- since Word 97. The bad news is that the ribbon returns in Word 2010. The good news is that the ribbon is vastly improved in Word 2010. First, the File menu makes a comeback, and the ribbon itself is easily customized. There isn't a "look like Word 2003" setting, but you can certainly bring all those "crap, I can't find it now" functions front and center, even pegging them to a list of quick buttons that sit below the ribbon and are always visible. Word 2010's ribbon isn't the Word 2003 interface you remember, but it is an easier transition than Office 2007 offered.
Microsoft doesn't exactly have a stellar security reputation, but Word 2010 makes a serious effort. Case in point: Protected View, which allows you to view potentially risky documents in a sandboxed Word environment. Protected View automatically engages for any document that Word deems a risk, including anything that was downloaded from the web or came attached to an email. The document will open in Protected View, disabling any macros or embedded functionality, as noted by a yellow alert bar just below the ribbon. Until you Enable Editing, the document will remain locked and inert, but once you disengage Protected View, the document will run just like any Word file with full privileges. Consider Protected View a last-chance to double check that the "really fUnny!!!1!" file your cousin e-mailed you is legit before letting it run wild on your system.
Remember how Microsoft brought the File menu back in Word 2010? This is what they did to it. Backstage is arguably the biggest improvement to MS Word that appears in 2010. It's a clean, simple interface for managing the security, printing, saving, and sharing of your document. It's also where the Options menu for customizing the ribbon is hiding, and it's where you'll find the Help menu. Rather than trying to squeeze all this functionality into the ribbon or a floating dropdown, Backstage takes over the whole screen, hiding your active document and giving you room to see all the options you can fiddle with. The sheer number of controls hidden in Backstage is too lengthy to document in detail, but suffice it say, if you can't find something in Word 2010, Backstage is the first place to look.
Collaboration and Sharing
Perhaps the most compelling features within the Backstage view are Word 2010's radically improved sharing options. First among these is the Document Inspector, which is both a cleanup and security tool that audits your document before you share it. Got a custom template you don't want to share? The Document Inspector will strip it out. Don't want your name associated with a doc? The Inspector can suppress the owner/author field that's native to Word documents.
Whether you use the Inspector or not, Backstage is full of sharing options. You can simply e-mail a document, and Word 2010 will pass the document off as an attachment to Outlook 2010 (or whatever your default Windows mail app is). You can save a copy of the document to Skydrive, the 25 GB online storage space that anyone with a free Microsoft Live account can access. Hotmail and MSN Messenger users, this includes you. Skydrive offers granular privacy controls and, as the name suggests, Word simply considers it an additional drive on your PC. You can save to and from Skydrive directly from Backstage, and if you access a doc through your browser at Skydrive.com, the site gives you the option of opening it directly in Word 2010, just as if you double-clicked it on your PC.
Whether you're using Skydrive, SharePoint, or even a local file server, Word 2010 also supports active co-authoring, which is to say that two or more users can have the same Word file open at the same time -- and all edit the doc simultaneously. This is more useful in Excel 2010 than Word 2010, but for something like a giant annual report, having users edit separate sections at the same time is a significant timesaver. No more mailing a single file around or merging separate versions manually.
Microsoft Word has always had incredibly powerful editing and formatting features; Word 2010 gives you a better handle on wielding those powers effectively. First up: the Paste Review function. In previous versions of MS Word, pasting text from other sources meant dragging the formatting of the copied text along with it. The new in-line editing menu, which appears when you right-click a spot in your document, gives you the option to paste your clipboard text with the formatting intact, paste it as plain text, or to merge the formatting. The merge formatting option can occasionally produce odd results, but generally speaking it preserves format elements like bolding, italics, hyperlinks, and the like but strips out fonts, odd spacing, and embedded metadata.
Next to the paste Review function, the Navigation Pane may be the most useful new editing feature in Word 2010. Rather than the floating Find/Replace menu of previous versions, Word 2010 generates a lefthand column that highlights every instance of the text or content that you search for. Now you can quickly surf between every appearance of your search term and deal with each one separately, rather than simply click Replace All and hope nothing weird happens. Want some instances of "MS Word" to get replaced with "Microsoft Word", and other instances left alone? The Navigation pane makes this extremely easy.
Microsoft Word 2010 also has a number of advanced editing features, including the ability to capture and edit images directly from within Word, but that's a bit beyond the ken of average users. The same goes for the substantially more robust word art and text modification features in Word 2010. It's great that these functions are present, but how often do you need to import a screen capture directly into Word and then strip out the image background?
Microsoft Word 2010 has much to recommend it - if you're a Word power user. Speaking personally, I find Word 2010 a huge step up from Word 2007 and miles ahead of Word 2003, but I write professionally on an almost daily basis, and I need to format my work for a number of different venues, from web publishing systems to conventional physical printers. If your workload doesn't include similar demands of your word processor, odds are you don't need to shell out for Word 2010.