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Top features worth considering in Microsoft Office 2010

In the final segment of his three-part tip, our expert discusses his favorite features in Microsoft Office 2010 -- including Word, Excel and Outlook.

In my previous articles in this series, I identified reasons to consider delaying an implementation of Office 2010, problems with Office 2010 and enhancements that are still needed, in my opinion.

Despite those drawbacks, I am using Office 2010, and the programs in the suite offer a number of very nice features. It's difficult to attribute productivity increases or to quantify cost savings based on their use, but these features will make many operations easier for users.

The most obvious change is the removal of the Office Button. It took a while to get used to, but once you get used to the tab and other user-interface changes -- such as the new location of the out-of-office notification in Outlook -- it does have a better feel.

The zoom control and customize ribbon features are powerful and apply across Office 2010 products.

  • The zoom control feature shows up in Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint and Word. Zoom is moved to the status bar and features a slider control. Moving the control dynamically zooms the text in the document or email. Clicking on the zoom % indicator produces the old static zoom menu.

  • Customize ribbon was available in previous versions of Office only via serious programming. Now, it's a menu item. Go to File > Options > Customize Ribbon, where elements can be added or removed as desired.

  • Formatting has a powerful preview feature. Select something, and when you right-click to paste it, several formatting options show up (see Figure 1). Moving the mouse to the different format icons will produce a preview of what that option would look like. Figure 1 and Figure 2 show two different formats for pasting a table from Excel into an email message. This enables a user to select the final format rather than repeatedly trying different options by cutting and pasting several times.
  • The Quick Access Toolbar has additional options, similar to the 2007 version of Office. I found it essential to get my commonly used functions out in the open so I wouldn't have to search for them each time.

Excel 2010 has PowerPivot for a more seamless integration to external databases for serious Excel users. Microsoft has also moved things around in the spreadsheet application, eliminating the Office Button and introducing the File tab. Excel has a cool feature called Sparklines, which allows a row of data to be summarized as a graph (see Figure 3). Note that there are three graph formats and many colors to choose from. Just select the data, then go to the Insert tab, and select the graph you want from the Sparklines group.

Word 2010 supposedly has nice new features, but I have yet to see anything cool or even significantly different. I have found the Recent list and the zoom control extremely useful, however. The Recent list was previously located in Word 2007 by clicking on the Office button. I like that it displays the path to the file. Note also how sharing, permissions and version management are easy to find.

OneNote is my all-time favorite Office application. What a powerful organizational tool! Think of it as a directory of folders, called a notebook, to which you can save email, documents, etc. and create templates. I created a template with about 10 folders, each with common tables and lists and links to documents and websites. So, each time I open a project, I open a new notebook.

Email can be saved directly to OneNote via the OneNote icon. In 2007, clicking this icon saved it in a generic bucket called "Unfiled Notes," which then had to be moved to the proper location. In 2010, the option to browse the notebooks has been added, to put the email in the right place. Figure 4 shows the dialog that not only allows selection of the notebook to save to, but also contains a list of most recently saved locations (green circle in Figure 4).

Notebooks can be easily moved from OneNote 2007 by simply opening them up in OneNote 2010. But if the notebook has to go back to 2007, it must be converted to 2007. This is easily done in notebook properties -- where a notebook can be changed from OneNote 2010 to 2007, or vice versa.

Outlook is probably one of the most used Office products. I polled some of my co-workers, who contributed to this list.

MailTips is my favorite Outlook feature. I first noticed it when I entered several recipient names in the "To:" line of a message. One individual had an out-of-office notice posted in Outlook. As soon as I typed the name and Outlook recognized it, the full out-of-office message showed up in the MailTips bar just above the message window. This is great because Outlook gives you a heads-up before a message is sent so you don't have to wait for an out-of-office reply (it does still come back).

A button in the MailTip allows easy disabling of automatic replies. Another MailTip shows if you have enabled automatic replies, and it warns when your mailbox is full (again without waiting for the notice). It notifies you that after sending the message, the quota will be full. MailTips can be customized in File tab > Options > MailTips.

Conversation view is a grouping similar to "groups" in Outlook 2007. This feature allows organization of messages by conversation. If there is an email thread that involves several people over a few days or weeks, you can group them by conversation, and all emails in the conversation among those people will be organized in a single tree. Figure 5 shows how I expanded one conversation node, exposing all related messages in that conversation. To enable this, right-click in the column header in the message listing, and select Arrange By > Show Conversations (Figure 6).

Respond with meeting is an option that allows a meeting notice to be created with all the names of the recipients in a mail message. What a time-saver! One click, and the request is formatted. This is added to the Respond menu, along with Reply, Forward, etc. In addition, you can respond with an IM or a text message.

Forward as an attachment is an icon in the respond menu of the Ribbon. One click on it creates a new mail message and adds the current message as an attachment. This is another great time-saver, eliminating multiple steps required in earlier versions of Outlook.

Quick Steps is a collection of shortcuts that are quite intriguing. For instance, there is a Team Email option. Clicking on this the first time yields what is shown in Figure 7. Interestingly enough, when I did this, my team distribution list actually showed up in the To: field. I erased my teammates' names from the screenshot, but trust me, they are there.

Going to the Options menu offers additional customization. Other Quick Steps, such as "To Manager," require customization, but they are very handy. In addition, clicking on "Create New" allows creation of your own custom Quick Steps.

Integrating Office Communicator to Outlook displays a person's availability, as shown in Office Communicator. This status button shows up in email messages and other operations.

Office 2010 continues the annoying habit of requiring retraining for most users because of its many user-interface changes, but this version may finally be worth it. The features described above are just the tip of the iceberg. For a more comprehensive (yet still not complete) list of features, go to the Office online help and search for "What's New in Microsoft Outlook 2010?" Similar help is available for other Office products.

The more I use and explore Outlook, the more impressed I am with its new options. An Office 2010 upgrade is certainly worth evaluating for your company, even if its effect on user productivity isn't measurable.

Gary Olsen
is a solution architect in Hewlett-Packard's Technology Services organization and lives in Roswell, Ga. He has worked in the IT industry since 1981 and holds an M.S. in computer-aided manufacturing from Brigham Young University. Olsen has authored numerous technical articles for TechTarget, Redmond Magazine and TechNetmagazine, and he has presented numerous times at the HP Technology Forum. He is a Microsoft MVP for Directory Services and is the founder and president of the Atlanta Active Directory Users Group.

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