office2010logo The bloggers were buzzing about Microsoft Office 2010 today, after Microsoft gave a nice presentation at a Partner Conference. The new Office suites won’t be on the market until early next year and there are some important questions that were not answered today, so most of the excitement is premature.

The most interesting new offering will be web-based versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote that look identical to the desktop versions. You’ll put in a Windows Live ID and have access to your files stored online, where you can work on them with programs that look just like what you use on your own computer. And it will all be free, supported by a few advertisements! Swell!

Hmm. Some of that will be true but I wouldn’t start building your business around it yet. Everything depends on the experience of opening and saving files. If you can click on File / Open and see a list of online files as easily as your local Documents folder, and save files to an online folder with a single click, that will truly open new doors to transform your world. There’s no good information yet about how online files will be integrated into the Office programs. (The first pass at that is Office Live Workspace, which appears on the menus of Office 2007 applications after installing a little add-on. There are small but serious issues that make it difficult to use Office Live Workspace and I don’t know anyone who has adopted it. Reportedly it will be dropped in Office 2010 in favor of customized access to Windows Live Skydrive.)

There will be two different versions of the web applications: a free ad-supported version for people with a Windows Live ID; and a subscription-based version through Microsoft Online Services using Sharepoint to tie everything together. One of the promises, for example, is that Word documents can be edited simultaneously by more than one person, with full information about whose edits went where – but only if the document is hosted in Sharepoint. The free experience may be noticeably less special.

There will be many small changes in the Office programs. Outlook will keep related messages together (a “conversation” or “thread”) and make it easier to get through them. Word will give you more control over how things will look when they’re pasted in. (Whew!) Powerpoint will have better transitions and animations, plus a bit of simple video editing. Those are all nice improvements but hardly earthshaking.

Frankly, the change that might affect the most people is that OneNote will be included in all the Office suites. It’s the program that you should be using as much as Outlook and it deserves to have the spotlight on it for a change. I keep trying to get you to use it – here’s one of the articles I’ve written about OneNote.

One more bit of amusement if you’re as cynical as I am about the excitability of bloggers and the media. As near as I can tell, Microsoft didn’t announce anything new today about web-based versions of Office programs. Those were announced at a conference in November 2008. Here’s my article back then about the online versions of Office programs, including a nice screenshot of Word running in a browser. There’s nothing new today except the hype.

Lots more to come about Office 2010 but you don’t need to pay attention yet. There are still months to pass before we know how it will affect you.

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