With the market for web-based applications on a distinct upward curve Microsoft this week confirmed its plans for a web version of its Office 2010 suite as well as a host of new features in the desktop-based version.
Making the announcement at its Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft said that the Web-based versions of applications such as Word and Excel would be made available for testing in August. The Web-based versions of the office suite will also be made available for free in an effort to keep users on Office rather than see them migrate to free online alternatives such as GoogleDocs and Zoho Writer.
For now, however, users must be content with a technical preview of the desktop-based version of Office 2010 which has a number of changes and additions. Among these are a new screen capture and image editing tool, protected editing modes, a revamped options page and OneNote integration by default.
The integrated screen capture and editing tools are likely to be very popular with users because they greatly simplify the process of including graphics in documents. The integrated screen capture tool allows users to capture a screenshot of the current desktop and embed it in a document in a single action. Using the image editing tools users can perform actions such as removing the background on an image embedded in a document, or just cutting out a portion of an image. The tool is called “background removal” and gives users basic image editing capabilities without requiring a separate tool such as Photoshop. Obviously this doesn’t replace Photoshop for complex image editing but it is perfect for most users.
Office 2010 also includes a number of security enhancements that give users better control over who can edit documents and how they do this. Among these is “protected mode” which makes any Office document downloaded from the Internet read-only until the user enables editing mode. This has its advantages for sharing documents but could become annoying over time.
A more useful feature is the restricted mode which gives authors fine-grained control over who can edit documents and the limits of what they can do to the document. Using the restriction tools, authors can limit formatting changes to a selection of styles, limit editing to certain areas of the document or block certain authors from making changes.
The Office options page has also been given a significant overhaul in this release and includes an extensive array of document options and settings, all in one place. The new interface makes it easier to save files in various formats, including to a Sharepoint location, as well as viewing all document permissions and status in a single location.
The one feature that will make many users happy is the inclusion of OneNote by default in Office 2010. OneNote is a note-taking application particularly popular with tablet PC users who use a stylus to input text into Office. Previously OneNote was a premium option for Office but with this release it will be included as standard in every release of Office 2010.
One of the key focus areas for Office 2010 is the inclusion of multimedia capabilities. In addition to the image editing tools already mentioned, Powerpoint fans will be pleased to hear that Powerpoint 2010 includes the ability to embed YouTube content in slides natively. Embedding YouTube videos has been available to Office 2007 users through a third party plugin. Now, however, YouTube and video embedding is part of the default Powerpoint application.
Outlook also gets a boost in Office 2010 including, among others, a “conversation” view of incoming email, not unlike Google’s GMail. In addition Outlook also includes an “ignore thread” feature which allows users to hide ongoing conversations that they are not interested in.
Microsoft South Africa’s Albie Bester says that with Office 2010 Microsoft is streamlining its number of versions down from eight to five. Office Web applications will be available through Windows Live for free and as a subscription through Microsoft Online Services.