Say what you will about the Windows monopoly, it was Office that made Microsoft's fortune. After all, what's an OS without applications? Over the years, Microsoft evolved a humble word processor and spreadsheet into a tightly integrated suite of groupware and productivity applications. Today you'll scarcely find a business desktop without Microsoft Office installed.

At the same time, competition has never been tougher. Open source alternatives, such as OpenOffice, now offer the basic functionality of business productivity software for free. And web-based productivity software, including Google Apps and Zoho Office, threatens to subvert the traditional desktop software model altogether.

But Microsoft is no slouch. Office 2010, the next version of the software suite, is not expected to arrive until next year, but a technology preview shows it to be another solid effort from the Redmond-based giant. With this release, Microsoft has polished and expanded upon the groundwork it laid with Office 2007, while continuing to add new capabilities, particularly in the area of networked collaboration.

When Microsoft first revealed its revamped UI concept for Office 2007, some hailed it as revolutionary. Others complained that the Ribbon was too big and too awkward, and created an unnecessary learning curve by messing around with menus that worked perfectly fine where they were.

I happen to belong to the first camp, but if you count yourself among the Ribbon-haters you'll definitely be disappointed with Office 2010. This time, the Ribbon is pervasive across all components of the Office suite, including those that lacked it in Office 2007 (such as OneNote, Outlook, and Visio). For those of us who feel more productive with the Ribbon, this consistency is a welcome improvement. Sorry, haters.