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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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: