Exploring Microsoft Office 2010 beta

The word “File” looks like a tab on the Ribbon, but it’s presented in the background colour of the application – for example blue in Word, green in Excel and so on – so that it stands out more.

Exploring Microsoft Office 2010 beta

Click on it and you’re taken to the Backstage area, where you’ll find all the commands related to the document as a whole, plus all the options for that application. The order of commands on the File menu has been changed since the Technical Preview, with Save and Save As moved up the list to be more prominent.

Microsoft has also made it more obvious where you are in Backstage, although some of the apps have such a large number of commands in Backstage that you might have trouble remembering where to find them (or, indeed, the differences between them). PowerPoint, for instance, offers not only File | Save and File | Save As, but also File | Share | Save to SharePoint, File | Share | Publish Slides and File | Share | Create PDF/XPS Document. However, there’s nothing to stop you using File | Save As to create a PDF file or to save a presentation directly to SharePoint.

I know the application is just trying to be helpful here, but are these multiple ways to save a file a good thing, and are there any subtle differences between the methods they employ that aren’t immediately apparent?

Word’s new Navigation pane, which shows all the headings in your document, remembers whether it was previously shown or hidden and has smoother animated action whenever you add a heading. There are many more new transitions available in PowerPoint.

Backstage

Now that we actually have SharePoint 2010 Beta, SharePoint Workspace’s (once known as Groove) new features that are supposed to enable you to take SharePoint 2010 sites offline will work, although there’s a surprising number of lists that aren’t currently supported. Why Calendars and Phone Call Memo lists aren’t supported, I don’t know.

Completely new in Outlook 2010 Beta is the People Pane, which appears below the Reading pane in the main window and all the individual item windows. This shows thumbnail images, one for every person (or email address) associated with that item, and it lets you quickly access other items that are also associated with that person/address.

The contents shown in the People Pane are derived from the Windows Search index, which is kept up to date as new items are created or arrive via email. When you first install Office 2010 Beta, all your existing Outlook items must be re-indexed, so don’t expect the People Pane to spring to life immediately. Once it does, however, all the other emails, attachments and meetings known for that person will be just a click away.

It’s quick and convenient, and obviously Microsoft’s answer to add-ins such as Xobni – which does much the same thing but uses its own indexing technology and keeps much of the information in its own private store.

The People Pane can connect to SharePoint Server 2010 – if you have one in your organisation – to find data about a person, as well as to other (as yet unspecified) social networks to find pictures and status updates for that person. If you have a mugshot for the person in your Outlook Contacts, or a mugshot can be found via a social network, the People Pane will use that picture for the person.

If not, you just see a generic grey person outline, which makes it a little difficult to tell people apart. (The 64-bit version of Outlook seems to have a bug that makes it show the grey outline for everyone, whether or not you have a mugshot for them.) You can minimise or turn off the People Pane if you don’t subscribe to any social networks, or if you don’t want to see it.

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