Like each new version of Microsoft's productivity application suite, Office 2010 offers some improvements over its predecessor. However, the lack of a star feature may make it unlikely to compel an enterprise to upgrade from Office 2007 -- unless, of course, the organization has rights through Software Assurance.
Microsoft Office 2010 offers some enhancements to Outlook, but SharePoint Server users have the most to gain from this release, which is due May 12 for volume-license holders and June 15 for consumers.
Simeon Cathey, a manager at the systems integration company Neudesic and co-author of the Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 Bible, uses Office 2010 Beta on both his PC and netbook. He counted plenty of improvements for both IT professionals and end users in the new version.
Microsoft has had to play catch-up with social computing trends and the Web-based collaboration capabilities offered by Google in Google Apps and Docs. For example, Microsoft's answer to Google's multiuser editing feature in Docs is co-authoring in Office, which lets multiple users edit a document, presentation, spreadsheet or notebook via their Web browsers.
While many IT pros and end users want collaboration capabilities, their value is lost on security-conscious IT companies. Andrew Rice, a security expert at Vistorm, a U.K.-based information security services firm, said off-premise collaboration is "irrelevant" because of concerns about regulation and control.
There are other new features in SharePoint Server 2010 that the majority of SharePoint users will be able to take advantage of, though, including integration with Windows PowerShell, the command-line interface and scripting language for systems administrators; Sandboxed Solutions capabilities; and better records management.
Outlook comes of age
Some IT pros say the improvements to Outlook are overdue, especially the ability to support more than one Exchange account. In fact, Rice said he would upgrade to Office 2010 for that reason alone.
This version of Outlook is also available for32-bit or 64-bit systems and includes intelligent email management features and a customizable ribbon interface, which is used across all Office applications. The customizable ribbon is huge for some IT managers, because it "allows IT departments to customize the look and feel of Office 2010 according to each person's role and most-used functions," said Denis Baranov, an IT project manager at a small federal agency in Washington, D.C.
There are also new permission settings that let users restrict who can read, forward or print emails, and there is a conversation setting that groups related email threads together.
Dave Sobel, CEO of Fairfax, Va.-based IT services firm Evolve Technologies, said the "conversation view" means not having to see "RE" and "FWD" in front of every email that is part of a thread. Now, emails are combined in a discussion thread format and filed together.
But IT departments can expect some complaints from end users about the unfamiliar email filing system. People have posted on blogs and user forums around the Web that they havefound the conversation view annoying because "everything is screwed up and out of order." Some end users choose to switch it off entirely.
Another feature that is designed for efficiency but takes some getting used to is Quick Steps, which lets users simultaneously do multiple email functions. David Johnson, a principal at The Fulcrum Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based IT consulting company, said it was one of his favorite Outlook 2010 enhancements because once a "quick step" rule is set up, users can click messages to file away in certain folders or subfolder and mark them as read with one click on the Outlook ribbon.
Microsoft claims that Outlook 2010 starts and exits faster than Office Outlook 2007 and that it performs faster overall, but Sobel said the new Outlook appears to perform at the same speed as previous versions.
Backstage View, other Office 2010 enhancements
Another change is Microsoft Office Backstage View, which replaces the file menu across the core Microsoft Office 2010 applications. This feature got mixed reviews from some of the people interviewed for this article. Sobel, for instance, said it is confusing, even after months of using the beta version.
Backstage View is supposed to let admins incorporate work and information flows from other systems and highlight them in the appropriate Microsoft Office applications. For example, the feature lets administrators incorporate back-end human resources workflows into Office 2010.
The rest of the applications in Office -- which includes Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint -- have been tweaked in the name of slight productivity gains.
Upgrades from Office 2007 unlikely
Overall, Office 2010 enhancements probably won't be enough to inspire upgrades from Office 2007 users, and most upgrades to the new version will be a forced process, Fulcrum Group's Johnson said. When Microsoft stops shipping Office 2007 and all new end-user devices are based on Office 2010, that's when people will use it, he said.
"For a white-collar business, such as a CPA or law firm, there may be enough compelling reasons to upgrade," Johnson said. "But for the typical company, there probably isn't, especially since Office 2007 users can open documents from the new version."
But Office 2010 is a logical landing point for organizations that skipped Office 2007. IT shops running Office 2003 face the end of support in 2014, and it's unclear if "Office 15" will ship soon enough, said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. Others will coincide their Office 2010 upgrade with Windows 7 upgrades.