Five best features in the Office 2010 beta

Microsoft has released the beta of Office 2010 to the public. Here are five reasons you should check it out & make the switch

Microsoft has unleashed the public beta of Microsoft Office 2010. The Office 2010 beta includes updated versions of Word, excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, InfoPath, SharePoint Workspace, and Communicator. You can download it right now from the Microsoft Office 2010 beta site.

Like Windows XP versus Windows Vista, a fair percentage of users never made the jump from Office 2003 to Office 2007. The Windows Vista backlash had a residual effect which led customers to adopt a 'my-current-version-works-fine-why-change-it' mentality.

Well, for those users (as well as those users who have adopted Office 2007), here are five reasons that you should download the beta and check out what Microsoft Office 2010 has to offer.

1. Ribbons. OK. I admit that the ribbon interface takes some getting used to. If you are still using Office 2003 and you are used to the standard menu options across the top of your Office application screens, prepare yourself for a little learning curve when you start using Office 2010.

That said, once you familiarize yourself with ribbons you will find it hard to go back. The ribbon interface is more intuitive and helps you operate more efficiently (after that requisite learning curve we were talking about). Ribbons existed in Office 2007, but only in certain applications. With Office 2010 Microsoft has built the ribbon interface into the entire suite.

2. Backstage View. This feature is more relevant for users of Office 2007. In Office 2007 a round Office button replaced many of the functions commonly accessed from the menu bar such as saving and printing. That button never really seemed to catch on.

In Office 2010, the button has been replaced with something that looks like one of the ribbon tabs at the top. Clicking on the tab at the far left brings up a separate screen called Backstage View. The Backstage interface displays a list of tasks in a panel on the left, but most of the screen is dedicated to displaying the options available for the selected task.

3. Paste Preview. Microsoft collected user feedback and found that very frequently users end up undoing a paste action once it is completed. Basically, the text or image pasted ends up not looking the way the user intended so they remove it and start over.

Paste Preview allows you to see what the paste will look like if you complete the action, enabling you to save some time and energy and get it right the first time. It also gives you the choice of maintaining the formatting from the source, merging the formatting, or pasting just the text with no formatting.

4. Excel Sparklines. Excel has always had a variety of charts and graphs available to visually depict data and trends. With Excel 2010, though, Microsoft has added a new feature called Sparklines, which allows you to place a mini-graph or trend line in a single cell.

The Sparklines are a cool way to quickly and simply add a visual element without having to go through the effort of inserting a graph or chart that overwhelms the worksheet.

5. Social Networking Integration. Microsoft recognizes the social networking trend by adding Outlook Social Connector to the Outlook 2010 application. Outlook Social Connector will let you see emails, status updates, shared files and photos, and more all in a single view. You will also be able to see who your mutual friends are and other information to help you maintain and extend your social network.

As of the release of the beta there are no social network add-ins, but Microsoft promises to release them over the coming months. With the position Facebook has in social networking, and the relationship Microsoft has with Facebook, it seems safe to assume a Facebook social network add-in might be one of the first available.

There you have it--five reasons to download the Office 2010 beta and check it out. There are a number of other reasons as well, but there is only so much you can fit in one article. The integration with Microsoft Office Web Apps, as well as with other recent and upcoming release like Exchange 2010 and Office Communications Server 2010.

This is not a good year to be anti-Microsoft--Microsoft is on a roll. Bing, Internet Explorer 8, Windows 7, and now Office 2010 have all received a fair amount of praise as they have been unleashed. While other platforms like Windows Vista and Windows Mobile 6.5 have not succeeded in generating much excitement, these other software titles demonstrate that Microsoft still has the ability to develop innovative software that works.

Tony Bradley tweets as @PCSecurityNews, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.

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