Word 2010

Office 2010 Word

Apart from the suitewide alterations detailed above, Word 2010's key changes focus on design tools. First among them are new OpenType typography features that let you apply artistic effects ranging from ligatures to glows to bevelled edges, all easily accessible from the Fonts pop-up window.

In longer documents with subheads, the navigation pane (easily accessible from the View tab) makes skipping between sections simple. The new Insert Screenshot feature (found under the Insert tab) permits you to add, in­­stantly, an image of any open, non-minimised window on your desktop; without exiting the document, you can even opt to add just a region of an open window, which you can define on the fly.

New image-editing tools within Word allow for a wide range of adjustments and effects, including a compression feature to help keep overall file size down.

Unfortunately, Word has become such a powerful document-creation tool that its online counterpart is all the more of a letdown. Using the web app isn't difficult: The Save & Send screen has a convenient 'Save to SkyDrive' option, and I didn't mind not having all of the rich media tools. But the web application's lack of support for Word's own revision-and-review toolset seems unpardonable, since one of the best reasons for a web version is to simplify collaboration. While the Web app does support simultaneous editing, the feature is still underwhelming.

Excel 2010

Office 2010 Excel

The eye-popping chart graphics introduced in Office 2007 are certainly a hard act to follow, and aside from the suitewide image-editing, OneNote integration, and paste-preview features, the new Excel doesn't offer a lot to brag about. As in the beta release, the most eye-catching innovation is the addition of Sparklines, a feature that can create tiny charts in a single cell to illustrate trends in a row of figures.

Excel power users who own the 64-bit edition stand to benefit from the ability to manipulate massively larger amounts of data thanks to that version's increased addressing of memory. Excel jockeys also will want to download the free PowerPivot for Excel 2010 add-on, which lets you gather and analyse huge amounts of data from multiple sources.

The ability to save such complex spreadsheets to the web, open and edit them in the web version of Excel, and return them to the desktop without encountering formatting issues is probably one of the strongest achievements of Office Web Apps. Anyone who has attempted to do this kind of thing with third-party web services knows just how difficult it can be. But as with Word, functionality in the web edition of Excel is severely limited, offering no charting tools whatsoever.

On the web, you can use functions (they appear in a pop-up menu near the cell where the result will go), insert a table or hyperlink, and refresh data from outside sources. But in my tests the performance was painfully slow.

PowerPoint 2010

Have I mentioned how cool PowerPoint's Broadcast Slide Show feature is? It bears repeating, as everyone I tried the feature out with was very impressed. Yes, you can run remote presentations, not to mention live demos and more, with services such as WebEx--but if all you want to do is share your slides (presumably in tandem with a conference call), nothing beats the sheer simplicity of being able to do so straight from your desktop. My only quibble with Broadcast Slide Show: As when you use a projector, you can't see your speaker notes when you're broadcasting without a second monitor - you can see only what your audience sees. This is something for Microsoft to work on next time.

Other PowerPoint improvements in­­clude fairly robust built-in video-editing features that not only let you trim your embedded video but also bundle it up so that it travels with your presentation. You can import video from the web on the fly, too, and all the neat image-acquisition and editing features available in Word apply here as well.

As all previous new versions did, PowerPoint 2010 enlarges the already handsome arsenal of transitions and themes with new eye candy, including a selection of 3D effects. A new animation painter allows you to apply animation you've created for objects in one slide to objects in other slides. And a new autosave capability will surely rescue more than one work in progress from oblivion after an unexpected crash.

Similar to the other applications, the web-based version of PowerPoint is embarrassingly skimpy - not just in comparison to its desktop sibling but to online competitors such as Google Presentations and Zoho Show. You can create slides containing only text, still images, and smart art (Google's app at least lets you insert a video); in addition, you get merely a few image style tools, and no animations or transitions. I found working in the PowerPoint web app frustratingly slow, too.

Outlook 2010

The latest edition of Outlook delivers new layout options and features de­­signed to put more information than ever at your fingertips. Change is always tricky with popular software, however. A feature introduced in the beta - conversation view, in which all messages in an e-mail thread are gathered together regardless of when they were sent (à la Gmail) - is turned off by default in the shipping version, following complaints from some beta testers. (You can turn it on by clicking a button.)

To the existing panes (folders, messages, reading, and calendar), the default mail view adds a people pane that shows your recent interactions with the sender of whatever message appears in the reading pane. The people pane also is home to the most interesting new feature in the beta, Outlook Social Connector, which lets you view updates from popular social networks for contacts who are members. This function, however, works only with networks that support it with a downloadable add-on (at this writing, only Linked­In and MySpace provide add-ons; Microsoft says that Facebook and, oddly, Windows Live add-ons are due soon). Another concern is that Microsoft does not support Social Connector for the x64 edition of Office.