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Hands-On Look At What's New In Office 2010

Now that we’ve had some time to play with the Office 2010 Professional Beta, we thought we’d share what’s new and useful inside Microsoft’s big suite. Take a gander at the pictorial evidence below.

Overall, Office 2010 is not the kind of leap forward that Windows 7 was from Vista (or, for most PC upgraders, from XP). It adds a lot of stuff that’s previously been available only through plug-ins, makes performing the basic tasks of opening, printing and sharing documents a good deal more convenient, and throws in a few new features that will expand the repertoire of those who really know their Office.

The free Office 2010 Professional Beta doesn’t include access to Office’s online component (ReadWriteWeb has taken a quick peek at them), and we’ll mostly be sticking to Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint components on this tour. OneNote fans, you’ll get your own peek soon enough! In the meantime, you can check out Microsoft’s own video preview (Silverlight is, unfortunately, required).

For even more Office 2010 preview, with those new-fangled moving pictures, head over to Office 2010 in Videos, helpfully compiled into one place from YouTube by Adam.

On to the photos. Click any of them for a bigger (usually much bigger) view

Office as a whole

Many of Office 2010′s best new features are present in every application across the suite.

In Windows 7, each app gets a taskbar integration that includes the very helpful “jump lists”. Outlook makes the most use of jump lists, offering message templates and common actions. Other apps can have frequently-accessed documents pinned to their taskbar icons.

Backstage View: Hit the left-most tab (“File”, usually) in any application, and you’ll get a version of what the button with the Office logo offered in Office 2007 — just five times as helpful. The actions under each heading are broken up into clearly explained items with buttons that are easy to click — no more playing mouse cursor maze with sub-menus.

Under the “Share” tab is one of Office’s most helpful features, an option to save to a SkyDrive account. That account, if you’ll recall, offers 25GB of space in a nice web package. Saving to the SkyDrive does take a notable bit of time more than making a local save, and should be more automatic and integrated than hidden in the “Share” tab. Still, it’s a nice security blanket for very important files.

There’s also a “Publish as Blog Post” option in the “Backstage View” that works for most blogs that support remote publishing, although it’s not quite a polished setup.

More useful to most users will be the fairly polished and customisable print options:

Editing and pasting text and images:

“Paste Preview” gives you options right as you hit Ctrl+V, rather than making you root through menus to fix the garbled text you’ve just dropped in. From a tiny cursor menu, you can choose to keep or strip formatting and images, and see how it looks instantly:

Once the text is entered, you can apply some neat effects to it while keeping it able to be edited, and similarly see your changes in real time.

Office 2010′s photo-editing panel is much more powerful than its predecessors. A huge range of image effects can be instantly applied. Heck, if you want to give your images that Apple-like reflected-on-a-white-background look, that’s one click. Alignment, re-sizing, cropping and other tools are no longer sidebar-type actions, but front and centre as tools.

Got an image stuck in the middle of a wonky background? Office 2010 can pull it out — sometimes automagically, sometimes after asking you to help define where that image actually is.

In Word, PowerPoint and OneNote, there’s a built-in screenshot tool that can grab the screen behind the Office window you currently have open, or allow you to switch to the window you’re grabbing and then grab just a section of it. That’s a nice option for putting together presentations with break-neck deadlines.

Excel

This editor is not an Excel wizard. In fact, he may or may not still be struggling with a COUNTIF() function to mark how many times he took a GPS-tracked walk in October.

Still, the Sparklines feature is instantly recognisable as a really helpful little widget. It turns single cells into mini-charts, which automatically update to reflect changes to the data they’re tracking in whatever cell set you select:

Outlook

When you first start Outlook, you don’t have to steel yourself for an intensive session with IMAP servers and SSL port numbers. In most cases, you can just point Outlook at your email address and password, and — even with a Gmail account — the app just reaches out and hooks into your email. This didn’t work quite so well with our Google Apps-hosted Lifehacker mail, but likely would have worked fine with some manual configuration tweaks.

Here’s the big view of Outlook’s main screen:

Most intriguing of all is the inclusion of a “Quick Steps” toolbar. It’s a killer feature that already caught our eyes, and it allows you to perform one-click, multi-step automated actions on any message:

PowerPoint

The most eye-opening feature in PowerPoint 2010 is its broadcasting capabilities. At the moment, it only works with Microsoft’s own sharing service, but future plug-ins are promised for other screencasting services. Open the Slide Show tab, hit Broadcast Slide Show, and you’ll get a link you can IM, email or otherwise pass onto anybody with a web browser, and they can see your slide show, slide by slide, as you move through it.

Your guests are, of course, prompted to install SilverLight for a “better” viewing experience, but, as we noted, other services will be integrated for future slideshow sharing.

The “Smart Art” clip art isn’t exclusive to PowerPoint, but makes the most sense here, as it’s meant to help you organise your thoughts visually, rather than find cute illustrations of cowboys and smiley faces:

Streaming video embedding is as easy as embedding on a web page. Paste in the embed code you get from just about any Flash-based video site, and it’ll play in PowerPoint:

We’re not professional-level Office users, but we did find a whole lot of new and intriguing features in Office 2010. The folks at I’m Just Being Manan and PC World have done their own digging and screen sharing, too. What’s your favourite feature from the Office 2010 beta? Share your finds in the comments.