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Microsoft Office Pro 2010 Review


Rating: ★★★★½

The Home and Student version of Office includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote; Home and Business adds Outlook. Professional, which we review here, gives you Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access and Publisher.

Whichever version of Office you get, you’re getting something you didn’t get before: OneNote and the web apps in all the versions, Publisher in the Professional version.

office ribbon

lineRIBBON: Create your own tabs on the ribbon, add tools and pick an icon to use for the dropdown if there isn’t enough space to show all the icons individuallyline

There’s also a cheaper academic version of Office Professional, but the best way for most people to save money is to get the Home and Student version – or instead of paying for the box and the media, buy a product keycard with the licence number to unlock a pre-installed copy of Office Starter on a new PC.

Office Starter is the basic version of Word and Excel that ships on new PCs. It doesn’t have the References, Review and View tabs on the ribbon, it lets you edit tables of contents and smart art that’s already in a document but it doesn’t let you create them from scratch and you can’t create pivot tables in Excel. It does have task panes – and it always has a little ad for Office in the corner.


lineBACKSTAGE: The Backstage menu is one place for all the things you might want to do with your document, explained in handy detailline

It’s very much a replacement for Works – or for WordPad – and if you want the full new feature set of Office 2010 then you want one of the full versions.

The question is, with free apps like OpenOffice, free online apps like Google Docs – and the free Office web apps themselves – what do you get from Office 2010, and do you want it?

Microsoft Office 2010: Word review

There are a lot more SmartArt diagrams in Word, Excel and PowerPoint – and all three apps get powerful new image editing and style tools.

This includes standard correction options but the most dramatic are the Artistic Effects – Photoshop-style filters that turn images into pencil sketches, pastel or oil paintings, mosaics or rippled glass – and the amazing Remove Background tool.

This does what it says on the tin, removing the background from images; the automatic removal isn’t perfect but it often gets the object you want first time and you can easily add and remove areas.

The new word processing features in Word are mostly about the look of text. Text effects replace the tired old WordArt with the same image effects that Word 2007 had for objects like shapes.

background removal

lineBACKGROUND REMOVAL: To do this you need an object with sharp edges and a little patience but you can cut out complex objects very quicklyline

There’s a drop-down gallery of presets on the ribbon, but you can set the reflection, glow, soft edges, bevels, gradient fill, custom shadow and other options to get the look you want.

OpenType support means if your font has ligatures for combining two letters more smoothly (like ff or if), kerning values for letter spacing, stylistic sets (like the fancy, curlicue-embellished alternate letter forms in Word’s new Gabriola font) or different spacing and shapes for numbers when you use them in the middle of text or on their own, you can choose different options.

image editing in word 2010

linePICTURE EDIT: Turn photos into graphics with the Artistic Effects in Office 2010line

Word also gets a new navigation pane that pops up when you use Find; this gives you snippets of text around all the places the word you want is found or you can use it to browse by thumbnails and headings.

This works very well, but find and replace is still a separate command, in the old dialogue box; plus as soon as you make any edits to the document you lose the results in the navigation pane. We’d also prefer to see Word repeat the find automatically rather than making you do it by hand.


lineSECURITY: Word opens downloaded documents as read only and it blocks macros by defaultline

In Word (and PowerPoint and OneNote but not Excel) you can edit a document at the same time as someone else as long as it’s stored on SkyDrive – and it’s easy to save documents straight there from the desktop menu, so collaboration isn’t limited to businesses with SharePoint.

Word locks the paragraph that one person is typing in and if you hover over it you’ll see an Outlook-style mini contact card for them that lets you mail them or start an IM or voice through Windows Messenger so you can have a chat.

word art

lineSMART ART: There are more diagram types making Smart Art more usefulline

When you open a file in Word or any of the Office apps that you received in email or downloaded from the internet, or if it has active content like macros or a connection to a web service (like an embedded web video in PowerPoint, not just a URL in a document), it opens in a new Protected View, with a warning info bar at the top of the window.

You can’t save or print a protected file, still less edit it, but you can read it and search it.

That means you can safely open any Office file that you find online without anything malicious being able to run. If you believe the document is safe, you can choose Enable Editing from the info bar once; you don’t have to do this every time you open the document.

The very first version of this in the beta had problems; we’re happy to say that all of those are solved and the protection is reassuring without being intrusive.

word text art

lineTEXT ART: WordArt used to be very cheesy; now it has powerful and flexible effects for text headings. Cheese optionalline

Microsoft Office 2010: Excel review

If you use Excel for real calculations, the big news is that the statistical, mathematical and financial functions have been overhauled.

Sometimes it’s just a name change, but a number of functions that haven’t been as accurate as they should be are improved and there are 50 new functions. Mostly the changes are about better ways to find and visualise information.

There are more options for conditional formatting, where you colour or tag cells with icons to show comparative values, but there’s a new way to put that information right in a cell with sparklines – mini graphs that show trends in a series of values, so you don’t have to look back and forth to understand the figures and the chart.

If you use PivotCharts to organise information you can put a button on the chart to choose filters that change what you see in the chart – much easier than trying to chop areas of data out of the initial selection.


lineAUTOSAVE: Excel and other Office 2010 apps keep multiple versions of your documentline

If you want to switch between different settings in a Pivot Table or Pivot Chart often, you can create Slicers – graphical views that float over the workbook and combine data from multiple underlying tables or charts that you can style the way you want.

If you have huge data sources to work with, the PowerPivot add-in lets you analyse them in Excel; especially on the 64-bit version you can deal with truly enormous data sets surprisingly fast – essentially you get SQL Server analysis inside Excel. And if you format a lot of charts, you can save the formatting steps as a macro to re-use quickly.

For the average spreadsheet, the new filter options will be more useful. You no longer have to freeze the window to keep column headings visible at the top of the window; a tiny thing that makes life so much easier.

excel backstage

lineBACKSTAGE: Backstage organises options and tools logically; the print default in Excel is only sheets with actual content online

When you filter a column, instead of scrolling through dozens or hundreds of checkboxes for a large spreadsheet you can type in what you want to filter on and Excel filters the list of filters; it’s easier to do than it is to describe and you get just the information you want to see.

Excel feels generally faster to use; files open and save faster, large workbooks with multiple sheets in load in parallel and charts in particular are faster – back up to the speeds of Excel 2003.

Excel doesn’t do much different with the Backstage view from other Office 2010 apps, but the default print setting is to only print active sheets – no more reams of pages printed only with the Excel grid using up all your paper.

Like Word, Outlook and PowerPoint (and Publisher if you’re pasting text), Excel lets you preview the different ways you can paste in information so it looks right by using the Paste gallery on the ribbon.


lineSLIDERS: Pivot Tables are powerful but complicated; create sliders to switch between different views quicklyline

This is a change of emphasis in Office from years gone by, when Quick Print was the default and Excel acted as if it always knew best; now you’re encouraged to look at the options to make sure you get want you want first time, which can take more thought but ends up much less frustrating.

All three apps also make it harder to lose work. If you change your mind about your changes, you can see the last five autosaved versions of your worksheet or document on the Backstage menu.


lineSPARKLINES: Sparklines put mini charts next to your data and you get options to format the data and the lookline

If you save the document those versions are deleted; if not, Office keeps the most recent version just in case you want it later. And if you create a document and never save it, Office keeps it around for four days before deleting the autosaved version, so files you didn’t want aren’t cluttering up your disk but if your PC crashes or gets unplugged before you get around to saving a new document you can get it back.

Microsoft Office 2010: PowerPoint review

We’d like Excel to take a lesson from PowerPoint 2010; like Word, each presentation is now in its own window so you can see them side by side with all your other windows; this shouldn’t be a new feature but it’s certainly welcome.

You can have Backstage open to save one presentation to SkyDrive while you tweak an animation in another and look at a third presentation with animations and transitions in the new reading view, which is a slideshow that doesn’t take over the whole screen.

Being able to group slides into a section means you can print them together or move them around in the presentation – or into another presentation – more quickly.


lineBROADCAST: PowerPoint Broadcast is the easiest way to show a presentation without being there in personline

If you need to give a presentation to people who aren’t in the same place as you, PowerPoint Broadcast is hands down the easiest way to do it; you just choose Broadcast Slide Show from the Share & Send section of the Backstage menu in PowerPoint and you get a URL you can email around.

The people you send it to don’t need to install anything and the slides are high resolution, not the size of a postage stamp.

You can also turn your presentation into a video – including your narration – in full resolution or resized for the web or a mobile phone. And it’s great to see an accessibility checker in the sharing options.


lineSCREENSHOT: Journalists and product managers won’t be the only people who find grabbing screenshots into presentations usefulline

The new image editing tools in Office 2010 are particularly useful in PowerPoint, but you also get basic but useful video editing tools. You can trim videos within your presentation by dragging a slider, add fades and other effects like reflections, bevels and 3D or bookmark scenes to use for a video menu – or to trigger animations on the slide when you reach the bookmark.

You can use video as a slide background or layer multiple videos one on top of another. And you can easily pick one frame (or a different picture) to use as the preview on the slide, instead of having an anonymous black frame until it starts playing.

You can embed DivX, MOV and H.264 files as well as the usual WMV, WMA and MP3, and you can use the embed code from video sites like YouTube to add web video to your slides; you’ll need to be online to play the video and while you can preview it, you can’t fade in or trim online clips because PowerPoint doesn’t keep a local copy to work with.

Effects like recolouring the video or putting it in a 3D frame don’t work, even though PowerPoint lets you apply them; if would be clearer if the options just weren’t available.

powerpoint save video

lineVIDEO: You can put video into your presentation – or turn your presentation into a videoline

powerpoint  video

lineVIDEO: Trim video clips, put them into a 3D frame and bookmark frames to work withline

The new transitions – some with 3D effects – and animations look professional rather than cheesy – and they’re GPU accelerated. The animation painter works like the format painter; you can copy settings from one animation to another all in one go.

PowerPoint is growing up into a multimedia authoring tool and if your presentations are boring, these days it’s your fault not PowerPoint’s.

Microsoft Office 2010: Outlook review

Outlook 2010 would be a lot faster than Outlook 2007 if the Office team hadn’t decided to take the performance improvements and release them as a service pack for the 2007 version.

That means that although search performance is still a little faster than with 2007 the most obvious difference is the ribbon and Backstage interface.

As with the apps that got the ribbon in Office 2007, this is a mixed blessing. The disadvantage is that if you’ve learned all the illogical places where Outlook’s commands and feature are hidden, you have to look for them again.

The advantage is that they’re now in logical, easy to find places and the relevant options simply appear when you open an email, address or appointment.


lineQUICKSTEP: Quick Steps are like macros for dealing with email – rules that you choose to apply by handline

Start a search at the top of the message list and you get a ribbon of commands for choosing options like searching the sender or subject rather than the entire message, whether it has an attachment and when it was sent.

You can get all those by putting in the right search keywords, but you have to remember them; the icons make power searches accessible to anyone and the contextual ribbon is a great way to see them.

Quick Steps will speed up dealing with mail if you have to do the same thing to lots of messages and it’s more complicated than deleting or filing them; there are canned Quick Steps to reply to a message and delete the original automatically and to file messages in the folder you use the most and mark them as read and you can create your own multi-step macros.


lineJUNK: New since the beta; Outlook lets you mark messages as junk without opening themline

Hitting Ignore on long-running conversations (discussing a party you don’t plan to go to or arguing about not using Reply All on messages that shouldn’t have been send to so many people in the first place) will save you some time too.

Conversation view puts messages into threads; this is a huge improvement on Outlook’s previous attempts to show the structure of back-and-forth messages and it pulls in your own messages from other folders.

It can be confusing when the conversation is shown partially collapsed and it works best if you use Exchange for email – if you pull in email from multiple services, or you get or send a lot of messages with the same subject, emails are likely to get mis-threaded.

schedule view

lineSCHEDULE: As soon as you open five or more calendars – including internet calendars – Outlook gives you this schedule view for comparing themline

outlook calendar 2010

lineMEETINGS: Calendar preview lets you see whether you can make a proposed meeting – and you can accept straight awayline

For that reason it’s off by default. We’d like to see more tools for working with this – like an option to split messages that aren’t part of the same conversation – but it’s well worth trying conversation view because if it works with your messages it’s extremely convenient.

The Outlook Social Connector puts details about friends in your social network into a small pane at the bottom of their messages; you can see what other messages they’ve sent, what meetings you’ve both been to, what files they’ve sent to you and what their recent status updates say.

Connectors for Linked In and MySpace are already available, with Windows Live and Facebook ‘coming soon’. Sometimes it’s just interesting to see what’s going on; sometimes the picture helps you remember who you’re talking to if you haven’t worked with them in a while – and being able to get at other messages and attachments is very useful.

It’s not as powerful as the Xobni add-in, but it is free. Smartphones that sync all your address books instead of letting you choose (like the iPhone) will get duplicate contacts with just email addresses in; we’d blame the iPhone rather than Outlook for that.


lineSOCIAL: Even without a Social Connector plug-in Outlook shows you meetings, other emails and files from the sender; with a plug-in you see their shared details and updatesline

There are some other Outlook improvements that only work with Exchange, but the majority of the new features in Outlook are both useful and available to everyone.

Microsoft Office 2010: OneNote review

OneNote has been a hidden Office gem for years.

Now, everyone gets it as part of Office, and it gets the ribbon makeover, which puts handy features – like recording audio while you’re taking notes or clipping areas of the screen into a note – in logical places where they’re easier to find.

The downside is that pen styles (for writing on a tablet PC) and tags aren’t quite as easy to choose from a gallery as they were in a task pane.

We’d also like to see OneNote get more up to date spell checking and grammar tools (and a find and replace option).


lineFILE: Collect research from multiple sources on the same pageline

The Find pane is much easier to use however, and searching multiple large folders with years’ worth of notes is instantaneous on Windows 7, changing as you type in the search, and it’s usually quicker to search for a page than navigate to it through your notebooks; results are ranked by how recently you’ve worked with those pages and OneNote searches the text that it automatically OCRs from images on the page as well as audio you record. You can also search on a page and see highlighted results.

OneNote is a good place to take notes about anything, including documents. You can create a OneNote page linked to another document or an email message and use the Dock to Desktop button to turn the OneNote window into a pane locked to the side of the screen so it’s easy to jot down notes.


lineSEARCH: Word wheel search finds matching pages as you type and highlights resultsline


lineTAGS: Tagging content on OneNote pages is as useful as ever, but you have to open the ribbon gallery every time instead of using a task paneline

Inserting information from other programs – especially Internet Explorer – or by taking a clipping of the screen lets you choose which section or page you want to put the information in, instead of creating a cluttered Unfiled Notes area you have to work through.

You can add links to other OneNote pages from the same Quick Filing list or by typing the page name in double brackets – and if you type the name of a page that doesn’t exist OneNote creates it, so you can treat it like a wiki. And there’s finally a 64-bit Send to OneNote printer driver.


lineSKYDRIVE: The OneNote web app will be available on SkyDrive when Office 2010 goes on sale, at which point you’ll be able to keep your notebooks there, share them and collaborate liveline

OneNote has always been good at sharing and syncing notebooks; this gets even easier now you can save and open notebooks from SkyDrive in OneNote (or OneNote Mobile – which puts an end to the frustration of only being able to sync to one PC from Windows Mobile).

If two people are working on a page – or you edit it on different PCs – the changes are tagged with your initials and you can get lists of who’s changed what. Deleted notes live in OneNote’s new recycle bin for 60 days in case you change your mind.

OneNote was already a great tool; these small but useful changes make it even better.

Microsoft Office 2010: Access, Publisher review

Office Professional also includes Access and Publisher, plus a handful of utilities, the most useful of which is the Office Picture Manager.

This gives you a picture viewer with a choice of thumbnail and filmstrip view and some simple but useful image editing tools: you can automatically correct colour and brightness for multiple images using what Microsoft says are improved algorithms, or you can manually edit the brightness, contrast, midtones and colour, plus you can crop, rotate and compress images or remove red eye.

These are the same tools you get inside the various Office apps, although they’re better than what’s in Publisher and it’s useful to be able to edit multiple images in the same interface.

office picture manager 2010

linePICTURE MANAGER: The same image editing tools as in Word, PowerPoint and Excel are in the Picture Manager – one way to use them with Publisherline

Publisher is something of the odd one out in Office 2010. It’s packed with improvements: dynamic guides that suggest where the element you’re dragging could align with what’s already on the page, content building blocks you can customise with your own styles and save to use in multiple documents, multiple layouts for captions on images, live previews of what text and objects will look like with a specific format, Excel-style table styles you can apply quickly and the option to hide the ‘scratch’ area for objects you haven’t positioned yet when you want to just see the finished page.

With OpenType fonts you get key OpenType features: true small caps, number styles, ligatures, improved kerning and stylistic alternates.

You can create a picture placeholder the size you want your image to be, pick the image to use and use the automatic cropping tool to pan and zoom to get the right section of the image in place.

publisher 2010

linePRINT: Backstage’s print preview makes sure you don’t print double-sided documents flipped the wrong wayline

You can easily replace images and even swap two images around on the page. Combine the new tools with the addition of lots of useful templates, the way Publisher takes advantage of the ribbon interface to expose all of the tools clearly (context-sensitive tabs and drop-down galleries with different options work extremely well) and the superb print preview on the Backstage menu (which even lets you see both sides of a two-sided document using transparency so you know it will all print the right way up) and you get a DTP program that’s both powerful and easy to use.

But some of the best image tools from the rest of Office are missing.

Publisher doesn’t have quite as many picture styles as Word, PowerPoint and even Excel; it doesn’t have artistic effects, colour saturation or tone tools – and it doesn’t have the Remove Background tool.

All these would be ideal in Publisher, but the time it took the team to implement the ribbon meant they couldn’t adopt the latest tools from the other apps – like OneNote this leaves you with niggling disappointments.

Access gets a mix of tools to help you set up a database more quickly (by including pre-built components, adding related fields like all the pasts of an address at once, including content from websites like Bing Maps for addresses and storing images in a gallery), improved visuals (including themes and Excel-style conditional formatting) and enhancements to macros.

access 2010

lineACCESS: Put an Access database together faster with standard building blocksline

publisher live preview

lineLIVE PREVIEW: See styles and formats with the live previewline

Features for building web databases only work with SharePoint, and Access remains a business tool rather than general purpose tool; for core Access users, the new version makes existing tasks easier but has few revolutionary improvements.

Microsoft Office 2010: Conclusion

microsoft office 2010 box

The Office 2010 interface cements the ribbon firmly in place at the top of the screen; it also fixes the biggest problems with the ribbon interface by letting you customise the ribbon fully, moving, adding and deleting icons or creating your own custom ribbon with exactly the tools you use.

You can even attach a custom ribbon to a template so you only get it when you need it.

What Microsoft calls the Backstage menu – and the rest of us will call the File menu – has also grown up and become useful.

It isn’t as pretty as the glowing orb of the old Office button and it doesn’t take advantage of design principles like Fitts Law (which makes the corners of the screen the easiest to click on), but not many people run one Office app full screen at a time any more and the File tab is far more obvious.

More importantly, the features on the Backstage menu are the ones you need to have there and they get much the same logical organisation as the ribbon gives to the features you use in your document.

The most confusing entry in the beta, Share, has been renamed to the much more logical Save & Send, you can see as many recent files as you want on the menu and the instant print preview is particularly useful.

Office 2010 has plenty of new features that just make it easier to get things done; from instantly inserting screenshots to PowerPoint’s video editing to sparklines in Excel to conversation view and the Outlook Social Connector.

The paste preview finally lets you paste content into documents and get it looking right first time. The graphics tools across the Office apps don’t compete with high-end image editing packages – although Background Removal is extremely impressive – but they make it easy to give images you’re using in documents extra polish.

New security tools aren’t overly obtrusive for the protection they give you against malware in documents online.

And with the Office web apps, you’re going to be working with online documents much more. Even if you don’t use the cut-down online apps themselves, you can put documents on SkyDrive so you can work on them at the same time as someone else in the full Office apps.

Office 2010 is also the first version of Office with 64-bit versions of the apps; that means you can work with Excel spreadsheets that are larger than 2GB, speed through long documents in Word, handle massive email stores in Outlook or just avoid the overhead of running 32-bit apps on a 64-bit system (Office on Windows 64-bit does a good job, but it doesn’t deliver the speed ups we’re seeing when you go completely 64-bit).

64-bit Office is great, except for the things it doesn’t work with; Microsoft tells us the problems with synchronising to Office Mobile will be fixed by the time the Office Mobile apps arrive in June, but there are still issues with 64-bit Flash in PowerPoint (which is at least in beta) and so far the Outlook Social Connectors are still 32-bit, as are most third-party Office add-ins.

None of those are the responsibility of the Office team, but it does show that Microsoft – and Adobe – still have work to do for 64-bit, especially given how many new PCs now come with 64-bit Windows installed.

We liked:

The improved performance, especially in Outlook Search; Outlook’s conversation view and embedded calendar views; the customisable ribbon interface, the clear organisation of Backstage; sharing and collaboration in OneNote directly and in other apps through SkyDrive; the amazing background removal tool and PowerPoint video editing; and improved but unobtrusive security.

We disliked:

Only the flagship applications get the flagship features even when they’re just as relevant elsewhere; OneNote lags on AutoCorrect and spelling tools, Publisher lags on image editing. 64-bit Office has big advantages but the 64-bit ecosystem is still not ready.


  • Outlook search improved
  • Picture tools are great
  • Customisable ribbon
  • Easy cloud access


  • Ink still an image
  • Excel anchored in one window
  • No trimming web video in PowerPoint


There might not be any one feature that you’d buy Office 2010 for
(although search in Outlook comes pretty close and collaborating in
Word, Excel, PowerPoint and especially OneNote through SkyDrive is
compelling), but put them all together and you get a hugely powerful
suite of apps that’s still easy to work with.

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