Thoughts on Office 2010 Technical Preview

While it was leaked out via a Bit Torrent, as most things do these days (erm, Windows 7 “RTM” as people are calling it) I decided to wait until it was available to me under Microsoft Connect. Yesterday I got the chance to download and install it. I wanted to share my thoughts on it as well.

Native x64

Yes, Office 2010 is now available to run x64. This surprised me actually, that’s a huge undertaking and I didn’t immediately see the benefit. However, people that spend their lives doing analysis and equations in Excel that have a x64 operating system will appreciate this. One thing that does interest me is how this affects 3rd party tools. 64-bit program cannot load a 32-bit library, and Office is inherently  COM oriented, so I wonder how this will play with plug ins. Most Virus Scanners offer some plug in for scanning a document as it is loaded. Macro enabled documents are a long time distributor of viruses. Office 2007 took a small bite out of that by changing the document’s extension for macro enabled documents as well as tightening the security.

Initially I was also worried about some of the downsides of x64 – mainly pointer bloat. Pointers in x64 are 8 bytes wide, as opposed to 4 for x86. This can lead to additional memory use by the application. I didn’t see any obvious memory issues in any of the office programs though.

Outlook 2010

outlook2010Right off the bat I noticed they fixed something that was really annoying, and that is if you use Outlook Anywhere (Exchange over HTTP) it would not remember your password. Every time Outlook started, you had to enter your password, no choice. My Windows password is pretty strong, so someone would have to get on my Windows account first before they could read my email. However since Outlook forced me to type my password every time, it also forced me to create a somewhat weak password – at least one that I could remember. Since we also have Outlook Web Access, someone could have gotten into my email through the web client if they guessed my password. Now I am able to keep my Exchange password pretty complex and only have specific devices – which are always secured with their own password – remember it.

Aside from that addition they also did a little interface revamping, specifically the addition of the Ribbon. It looks more polished, and allows you to access more features. It was something that also irritated me in Office 2007 was the inconsistent UI in the Office Suite. Notably, Outlook and Visio were missing the Ribbon – both of which have been fixed.

Outlook 2010 does a better job of organizing your email now as well, as opposed to a linear timeline of when it was received. It takes a bit of a GMail approach to it by grouping related emails into a conversation-like format. It was a bit confusing at first, so here is how I think it works. To the left of all grouped messages are an expanding arrow to allow you to view the conversation. Initially, it only shows ones that are in the inbox. If you click it again then it will include the entire conversation – ones from Sent Items and the Inbox. Once you get the swing of it it makes finding emails a lot easier. If you get a lot of emails in one day, you can catch up on what was already said much quicker. Of course, if the idea of grouping emails disgusts you, you can go back to the linear timeline – or any other sorting mechanism.

Something else that is new is the idea of Quick Steps – and I really like this. It allows you to create predefined actions on a message, say “Move to Folder Y and mark it as read”, or “Forward this to Tom and send it”. Here’s the kicker – you can assign keyboard shortcuts to it as well. My boss wanted this feature so badly he even took to writing a VBA Script that does it for him in Outlook 2007.

Maybe it’s me, but it appears that some basic artwork for icons are missing in the Technical Preview and are substituted with orange dots.

Small feature, but cool. Maybe it did this in 2007 – but I couldn’t find it – it now tells you how much of your space quota you are using. My quota is 500 MB and I am using 80. This probably only works for Exchange, possibly anything IMAP. I’ll have to test it.

Composing emails hasn’t changed that much. Aside from the ribbon, some other small features like “insert a screenshot” are now there as well.

Stability overall seems good. My mailbox isn’t huge so I can’t really vouch for how good it is with performance, but it is still a COM based application, and thus at the root a single threaded application. It didn’t hang on me though – I’ll update if it does.

One final thing, which I hope they fix, is that Outlook Today screen. That screen hasn’t changed since Outlook 97 or 2000, and it definitely feels worn and old with the new slick Ribbon UI. There’s so much potential with that screen but it isn’t being used.

Perhaps there are some additional things I missed. I can’t test it against Exchange 2010 so I don’t know if using Exchange 2010 will unlock some additional goodies.

Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010

Word and Excel are important applications to many, and it is unfortunate for me to say, at least so far – I can’t see anything different. The UI is updated to the new Office Tab rather than the Button – but the look and feel are the same. Startup is lightning fast though – I don’t even have time to see the splash screen. It seems to work with large documents better and not get sluggish like it use to. Maybe that is a new found power of x64, but I like it!

I’ll keep playing around and update if I find anything new.

Updates

One of my buddies pointed out to me that Office 2010 has better support for the Open Office formats. Though 2007 also supported it, many people called it incomplete and often saved it in a way that only Office could open (thus defeating the point of being “Open”). I would be a little surprised, but not completely, if this is a 2010 feature and not also an update to 2007 by means of a Service Pack.

I’m not sure if it is because it is coming with Windows 7 or Office 2010, but there are a few new fonts as well.

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