SAN FRANCISCO, 30 JUNE 2010- Most of us by now are familiar with all the obviously new parts of Office 2010, such as the revised Ribbon, the Backstage document view, Paste preview, and Outlook's Conversation view. But many of the really powerful changes in Office 2010 go far beyond cosmetic -- they're functional, under-the-hood improvements aimed squarely at people who use Office in a business context. Here, then, is a rundown of some key new features in Office 2010 aimed at people who use Office to make their work not just easier, but possible.
The business-grade features in Office 2010 reflect not only the increasingly online orientation of software but also the changing nature of the way business is done. More and more offices are becoming an agglomeration of a dozen disparate home computers, not a single, fixed corporate building. The next mission: making next-generation Office apps a sure thing on phones and tablets, too. But Office on the desktop -- and in the workplace -- remains solid.
Simultaneous editing or co-authoring
Here's a feature I've been awaiting for quite some time: the ability for multiple users to make changes to the same document in real time, and have those changes show up on everyone else's computer at once. Microsoft calls it co-authoring. It's been implemented elsewhere; for instance, Google Docs has supported simultaneous editing for some time, and a company named Plutext has been working on a simultaneous-editing solution for Word 2007 and Word 2003. But now Microsoft has added co-authoring as a native feature in Word, Excel, and OneNote.
The idea, as discussed by Microsoft before, is that people should be able to open a document, get to work, and have simultaneous changes recorded as part of their existing workflow. That said, you can't make this happen just by opening a copy of a Word document on a shared network drive or an FTP site. The document needs to be hosted on a SharePoint server or, failing that, on Microsoft's own free online storage service SkyDrive. Most people will probably encounter this feature via SkyDrive first, considering SkyDrive is free and requires far less work to set up than a SharePoint server.
Word 2010 provides the best functional example for how co-authoring works. When you open a document for co-authoring, you receive a notification about who else is editing the document in the program's status bar. Each of the users in question has a credentials pane; you can click it to obtain contact information, email addresses, IM handles, and so on. (There's no direct user-to-user chat function, which would have been handy, but maybe that's only because Microsoft assumes you already have some way of talking to the people you're collaborating with.)
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