All previous versions of Microsoft Office during the 2000s have featured gradually more robust implementations of document sharing, document version control and workgroup functions. The point has been to help small business owners, students, individuals, teams, workgroups and clients track document changes, additively or editorially contribute to a single document or a group of documents, and do so remotely or locally. Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010
provides all of this functionality in the fastest and most seamless ways yet developed. The workgroup and sharing features work in a local network, in enterprise networks, through Microsoft Office 365, and to a lesser extent through Windows SkyDrive.
Seems overpowering, yes? In reality - that is, in daily use on a variety of projects at home, school, at work, in your own business, online and in enterprise installations - Microsoft Office 2010 is fast, easy to use and familiar. I should qualify the "familiar" comment in that this latest version is familiar if you're upgrading from Office 2007, which was the version that introduced the Ribbon interface which essentially replaced the traditional File/Edit/View/Tools/etc. menu bar on which all previous Office user interfaces were based. Frankly, I used various versions of Microsoft Office for 14 years before upgrading to Office 2007 with its Ribbon interface and I'm still not 100% familiar with it. Consumer and business use research says I'm in the minority - that almost everyone who gets used to the Ribbon after a couple of weeks of daily use becomes just as comfortable with it as people using the old interface, and that includes the vast majority of people using Office overall.
Document integration is better than ever. Word inside Excel, Excel inside PowerPoint, PowerPoint inside Word, Word inside PowerPoint, and on and on, is superb. The old days of cranky formatting, incompatibilities, missing filters, etc., etc., are very long gone. Even hoary old Outlook has been radically improved with respect to embedded document integration, as well as the way in which Journal entries now contain robustly formatted documents of all kinds that have been generated by the suite or stored and organized in OneNote.
The most interesting addition to Microsoft Office, I think, occurred during the late 2000-early 2001 period when Microsoft introduced OneNote (originally called Scribbler if I recall correctly). OneNote, at its core, is an essential support utility for each of the Office component programs because it acts as a container for notes, ideas, images, videos, data of all kinds, and so on, which you can organize, search, prioritize and then pick from for use in any Office document. One of the great features of OneNote is that you don't have to remember to save anything; once you've typed, dropped, added, dragged, linked or pasted something in OneNote, it's there and it stays there until you personally choose to delete it at some point. Although OneNote is not quite as remarkably, intuitively usable and versatile as MindManager for mapping ideas and projects, it is nonetheless very useful and extremely powerful.
The full power of Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 kicks in only when you're working on a network which is served by a combination of Microsoft Small Business Server (which provides central data storage and access among other things which support Workgroup document sharing and so on) and Microsoft Exchange Server (which anchors Outlook into your business or enterprise network and supports a wide variety of scheduling and Workgroup communication functions among other things). Still, an enormous percentage of PC computer users around the world have been using desktop, laptop and notebook installations of Microsoft Office for many, many years.
The native document formats in Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 have the file extensions DOCX, XLSX & PPTX to help identify files created with the suite and which may contain advanced features, tweaks or formatting you've added that are not backward compatible with versions of the software prior to Office 2007. So if you're upgrading to Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 but still exchanging files with users of earlier version of the suite, make sure you save your files as DOC, XLS and PPT documents to avoid those dreaded, "Hey I can't open your file!" emails.
As usual, Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 is rock solid. We bored ourselves silly trying to crash, lockup or even momentarily stall any component of the suite. It's as stable as anything we've ever used, which is wholly appropriate considering how widely it's used. For the most part, no surprises here, nor should there be. The only minor gotcha may occur with OneNote, because its cache can become corrupted by a variety of malformed files and data entries, requiring that you stop what you're doing in order to empty the cache. A bad cache can stop OneNote and although you won't lose any data, it's a pain in the butt to have to take a few moments to sort it out. Microsoft needs to fix this properly and permanently in order to make OneNote as supremely stable as the rest of the components in the suite.
Word can function as a simple text editor, the full blown master word processor that it is, and as a robust desktop publisher. The version of Word in Office 2007 left us wondering why Microsoft didn't simply merge all (or most) of Microsoft Publisher's functionality into Word. Well Microsoft has taken another step closer to that ideal as far as we can tell, although Publisher is still Microsoft's premier page layout & design software. Page layout in Word is still lacking some features of 'real' desktop publishing software, but Word publishing power is more than good enough for general publishing use. Authoring in Word is enormously powerful, and I'm not just talking about business correspondence, reports, essays, articles, books, newsletters and so on. Rather, because Word formatting is so widely understood (or at least understood well enough), dozens and dozens of software developers have produced dozens and dozens of document converters designed to rework simple or complex Word documents into a variety of non-native formats and new documents. What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) page layout and formatting in Word continues to improve incrementally, especially in the area of image handling within document layouts. Being able to simultaneously edit a Word document with a group of remotely located individuals is an experience that everyone should have at some point. After establishing access permissions, it's possible for edits, contributions, corrections and notes to appear simultaneously for everyone who has access to the document, at the same time as the document owner is deciding what to keep, what to discard and what to save for later consideration. This last bit works even if you don't have a server-based network for access because once a Word DOCX document has been uploaded to and shared through Windows SkyDrive online, a number of workgroup and sharing features are available in that way as well.
Templates, templates, templates. Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 is supplied with an enormous number of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote templates (and direct links to thousands more at Microsoft), along with an enormous and well-indexed Help system which combines built-in help with online help documentation.
Excel remains the king of spreadsheets. You can still use Excel with the few formulae you've picked up or managed to figure out over the years. To really make Excel work hard for you though, take a short course online or work through any of the hundreds of tutorials available online. Excel keeps improving and remains the gold standard for everyone from students and solitary home-based business people trying to assemble graphs, charts, stats, bookkeeping and tables, to major insurance underwriters developing actuarial tables and grappling with massive statistical calculations. Of all the components of Office over the years, Excel remains the one that is least understood by the greatest number of users. Microsoft has made Excel easier to use. Get to know this version of Excel though, and you may never go back to whatever household or business budget and financial analysis software you're already using. Microsoft has responded to complaints about Excel 2003 (and a few about Excel 2007) by enhancing automation so that, once you learn the basics, a world of templated and predefined goodness opens up for you. The point is that Microsoft has tried to draw more and more people intp the Excel believers group (as if it wasn't a big enough group already) by continuing to simplify the ease with which home and small business users can come to grips with it.
PowerPoint now has some very stiff competition, but Microsoft continues to incrementally improve the software. The PowerPoint version included in Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 is effectively a multimedia authoring and production tool specifically for portable applications: exhibition presentations, meetings, reports, teaching, remote learning, tutorials, sales presentations, slide shows, video-based or multimedia presentation, advertising and marketing. At this point, anything you can dream up and any sort of content which can be converted into a format acceptable to PowerPoint (the file compatibility list is huge) can be included in a PowerPoint deck. PowerPoint has been extremely easy to use since the version included in Office 2003.
Outlook is Outlook. It's big, it's overkill for most home and small business users, and it contains features which the vast majority of home and small business users will never even look at let alone actually use. However, Outlook is so pervasive (like its older and wiser Word and Excel siblings) that compatibility with all manner of portable scheduling functionality has grown quite nicely. Simply put, if your primary scheduler is your Blackberry Calendar, iPhone Calendar, Google Calendar, Android Calendar or Windows Phone 7 calendar, then meeting notices and addenda sent from Outlook will apply, update and notify properly on those devices. Windows Phone 7 devices will continue to offer the greatest integration with Outlook features and Blackberry devices are a close second, but all the major smartphones contain calendaring which accepts Outlook notifications sent via email which arrives in your smartphone. Synchronizing a wide variety of native and third-party smartphone calendars with Outlook is very much easier than it used to be, mainly because Microsoft seems to have allowed third-party developers deeper into its programming. Either that or third-party developers are just getting wiser to Microsoft's historically protective ways.
OneNote, along with Outlook and whatever web browser you happen to prefer, act as a unifying glue which helps bind data collection, content management, notes, ideas, links, images, research, web clippings and you-name-it into a cohesive, organized and - above all else - searchable and useful experience. OneNote is effectively a collection point for everything you gather or think of when creating and developing a project of any kind: Word documents of any kind, Excel spreadsheets, charts, tables, formulas, notes, figures, images, video, music, ideas and clippings, or a workgroup effort to which various members of the group contribute information, links and content in almost any format during development, creation and production. OneNote is a versatile container into which you can import, drag & drop, copy & paste just about anything that can be viewed or fetched by or with your computer. Make an Excel chart or graph for later inclusion in a project of some sort, drop it into OneNote and it's automatically saved for later use. Make or track down photos, find links and jot some notes about a paper, report or idea you've got to develop and dump all the raw material into OneNote. Share some or all of it online through a Windows Live app or SkyDrive. Although similar in basic concept to such highly regarded software as MindManager, OneNote takes an approach which is specifically designed to help integrate the process of content management with the process of document creation. It is designed essentially to be the central storage place for everything you need to put together in order to get a job done. For the uninitiated, OneNote can appear somewhat redundant. But the more any of us uses a broad array of information sources in our day to day lives, the more apparent it becomes that having access to an intuitively usable digital notebook makes sense. Try it, get used to working with it, and I guarantee you'll shortly begin to wonder what you ever did without it. Microsoft finally added dragable tabs so that you can much more easily organize/reorganize sub-notes. OneNote has strong weg page capture functions so it's easy to collect and organize web articles on a particular subject. If you're running OneNote on a tablet PC, the software is fully compatible with drawing and handwriting recognition.
Value is in the eye of the beholder. You live in the world, so sooner or later you're going to have to look at or make use of a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document of some sort. Having the right tool to do that is important. Of course there are third-party Word, Excel and PowerPoint readers out there as well as robust third-party editors and office productivity suites (OpenOffice.org - the free alternative - comes to mind first, as well as products such as the venerable-and-still-excellent WordPerfect Office, and newer suites such as Kingsoft Office). Even though all the competing office suites are either free (OpenOffice.org) or much lower priced (e.g., Kingsoft Office at US$49.95), Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 remains the gold standard against which all others are judged. You get what you pay for, and then some, as well as a vast online support network about which (excepting OpenOffice.org) other office suite makers can only dream.
Cons: The OneNote cache is where all the action takes place rather than the actual OneNote database itself, so when the cache becomes corrupted for any reason, the only solution is usually to clear it out. There are lots of things which can mess up the cache - e.g., a bad JPG file - so watch what you dump into OneNote. Word, Excel and PowerPoint still can't handle RAW image files; there is no converter of any kind. It's about time Microsoft included more robust document authoring that includes ePub formatting (for ebook publishing), which at the moment can only be done using third-party add-ins for Word. Pages, in Apple iLife for pete's sake, exports natively to ePub, so we're baffled by the absence of native ePub export in Word. If Microsoft has not yet realized that Word is still the most popular writing software on the planet and that writers are, more and more, producing documents that may end up in eReaders before print, the company is missing the boat. Outlook continues to offer greater email organization options, but it still feels heavy handed and visually folder based. Raw computing power combined with obvious speed improvements in Outlook have, since Office 2007, made straight searches blazingly fast, so having more robust organization options may be moot to a great degree. Nevertheless, there are independent software makers out there who have developed different products (Nelson Email Organizer - NEO - comes to mind; an Outlook add-in which offers far better organization tools than anything in Outlook itself) that demonstrate how much better Outlook could be. In the enterprise, running on top of Exchange Server, Outlook is a killer app, but for most home and small business users it contains significantly more features and functions than they'll ever use.
Pros: Word, Excel and PowerPoint all keep getting faster. OneNote (for notes, data, ideas, information, content, images, videos, etc.) and Outlook (for communication, common file exchange, scheduling, journal notes, etc.), along with your web browser, underpin the three core products at all times. Component integration has become almost seamless. The Ribbon interface is now fully entrenched and familiar to an enormous number of users throughout the world (and, more important, among the people with whom you interact or do business) which means that generally more intuitive use through common familiarity has firmly kicked in. With Word and Excel now being the next best thing to a desktop publishing package (in addition to all their other core functions, and especially considering the enormous number of theme and layout templates freely available too) they have for many years, with such superbly seamless integration with all the other suite programs, effectively become with Outlook the nerve center of any busy home business or small business. As usual with these sorts of Microsoft products, you really do get far more than you paid for. Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 is highly recommended and earns our highest rating.