Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top 5 non-obvious feature enhancements to Office 2010

The question has been asked, who really needs to use Microsoft Office these days? The answer is, anyone who is in the business of professionally generating content for a paying customer. Word 2010 may not be the optimum tool for the everyday blogger, and Excel 2010 maybe not the best summer trip planner, just as a John Deere is not the optimum vehicle for a trip to the grocery store. But in recent years, Microsoft is the only software producer that has come close to understanding what professional content creators require in their daily toolset.

So far, the improvements we've found from actually using the Office 2010 Technical Preview released Monday (as opposed to the ones Microsoft told us about) can mainly be described as usability enhancements -- tools that appear to be responses to how people actually use the products. Compared to Office 2007, which threw out the old instruction manual with regard to how applications should work, Office 2010's changes are subtler, slicker, and less ostentatious. Of those we've noticed in our initial tests, here are five which we feel will make compelling arguments for at least some users to upgrade:

5. Embedding Web videos in PowerPoint presentations. Technically, it's possible to embed a YouTube video into a PowerPoint 2007 presentation, but you need a third-party plug-in to pull it off. Otherwise, PowerPoint is only geared to play locally accessible files, essentially using a Media Player component.

One of the very few functional changes to PowerPoint 2010 is the addition of a mechanism that enables you to embed YouTube and other videos into a presentation the same way you'd embed them into a Web page: by copying the HTML code directly in. PowerPoint 2010 (gauging from the Technical Preview) will allow you to preview the video in-place without having to view the presentation as a slideshow first, which demonstrates the depth of functionality Microsoft truly intends for this component -- apparently an in-place Adobe Flash object. It will be even nicer when this feature works; in our tests, the new component often did not locate the video online and looked for it in the "My Documents" directory instead.

A new restricted editing feature in Word preserves the formatting while enabling named editors to add and change content.4. Restrict Editing command in Word 2010. Many publishing organizations use Word as their principal tool for editing textual content, which means collaborators shuttle multiple documents between authors, editors, and proofreaders. Microsoft's collaboration tools are supposed to enable only certain parties to make changes. But in the publishing business, formatting codes are the keys to the final formatting of a production document, and if someone who has access rights can change those paragraph formats, even accidentally (which is easier to accomplish than you might imagine, thanks to customizable document templates belonging to each user), the entire production process can be held up, sometimes for days, while formatters work out the kinks.

This simple tool may go a long way toward preventing these kinks from popping up. On a per-user basis, Restrict Editing (located in the Developer panel, which is not displayed by default) can prevent named individuals from making certain types of changes to a document, even if he's generally permitted to make changes. Among the available restrictions are changes to styles, which creates the possibility for a safeguard that publishers can use to prevent authors from changing manuscripts willy-nilly to suit their tastes. (Can you tell I've been in the editing business?)

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