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Ah, numbers. The universal language. 500 million is an awful lot no matter where you go or what’s in question; hence, we think it’s safe to say that an awful lot of people use Microsoft Office—with totally appropriate italics for emphasis and everything.

The ol' suite is most certainly a seasoned player, which, so far, has proved its ability to keep up with the changing times. Lucky for Microsoft, especially considering how much the way in which we work has changed since the 2007. As Microsoft gears up for the Office 2010 release, we wonder, will it be another hit, or will half a billion people be disappointed? Let’s take a look at the breadcrumbs they’ve dropped so far.

The Road to Success, Step 1: Become One with the Web

Everyone is up in the clouds. Sure, it sounds dreamy, but it's more like a cold, hard fact: nowadays the Web and success are tied so tightly together it's hard to imagine a time when they weren't. Watch out Google Docs, because Microsoft is accordingly rolling out a handful of web browser versions of the more popular tools, including Excel, PowerPoint and Word. They're pretty basic and don't offer as many features as the desktop releases, but still, it's a step in the right direction. And we suspect that, for low-maintenance users, they're going to be pretty darn handy. Oh, and did we mention they're free? They're free.

Step 2: Up Your Sharing and Collaboration Game

Office 2010 is bursting with real time functionality. We've already covered what we know about the backbone of this new focus (SharePoint), so let's take a look at some of the other tools and how they're benefiting.

PowerPoint

All hail rich media! The ever-popular presentation program now comes with enhanced video and image editing tools. Think: a super, super basic version of Photoshop. For example, photo filters can be quickly previewed and transitions are easier to apply.

Video editing is simple as well. Basic functions like Play, Pause, Fast forward and Rewind are included, and videos can be sliced and diced from right inside the program, much like Windows Movie Maker. 

Ever want to share your ginormous slide shows? It'll be no problem in 2010, as files can be compressed for painless forwarding. Ever want to present your slide shows live to a remote audience? Of course you have, and now that PowerPoint works in conjunction with SharePoint, you can--even if you don't actually have SharePoint.

Excel

Thank you Microsoft, for gifting us with the ability to run spreadsheets in the browser. That's certainly going to come in very handy.

They've simplified things further with the addition of a feature called Sparklines, which provides a visual snapshot image of data within a cell. Instead of staring at a big messy chart, Sparklines now allows users to see, at a glance, the movement of their data in the form of bar charts, line charts, etc.

Thanks again to SharePoint servers, you can share Excel documents real time via the browser with other users and even set special permissions for who can access the documents.

Word

Now that SharePoint's capabilities transcend pretty much the entire Office suite, multiple Word users can edit a document at once.

In order to keep users from butting heads if and when more than one person is editing the same document at the same time, Word will notify each user when there are changes that need to be synced. Additionally, The copy/paste function is also jazzed up. You can now see a live preview for the paste function, which features the ability to create and insert screen shots as well.

Outlook

Here we see some pretty slick UI improvements. The new Conversations View in Outlook optimizes inbox space by allowing users a more visual view of their e-mail threads (expand/collapse threads, right click to add a category, flag, ignore, etc.).

A new feature called Mail Tips prevents users from unintentionally sending information to the wrong people by alerting a user when they are about to send messages to a group or an individual outside the organization.

Step 3: Hollywood, Baby

Lastly, can we talk for a second about how Microsoft is prepping the world for Office 2010? Because it's awesome. In addition to releasing short and sweet preview videos for each tool, the company has kicked out a full blown commercial,  movie-trailer style.  The extremely well done preview provides (frivolous) insight as to what happened to Clippy, the paper clip we all loved to hate, along with entertaining made-up quotes like "Excel and SharePoint workspace are a tour de force," and, "Communicator is a winner-ator!"

 

 

Does the commercial provide any useful information on the Office 2010 suite? No. Is it gimmicky? Absolutely. But again, major change is happening right here, right now, and Microsoft seems to be rolling right along with the punches. The promotional video shows that Microsoft is capable of making fun of itself, and the silly nature of it is bound to turn a lot of heads. After all, all press is good press, isn't it?

Sure it is! So, we encourage you to drop your opinions here. On SharePoint, on Word, on Outlook, on the death of Clippy--the whole shebang. Come on, tell us what you think.