BitDepth 737 - June 29

Microsoft introduces Office 2010 and positions it in the cloud.
Office 2010 reaches for the cloud

General Manager of Microsoft Trinidad and Tobago, Pradeep Raman, introduces Office 2010, the company’s newest version of its productivity suite.

At Microsoft Trinidad and Tobago’s launch of the company’s newest version of its productivity suite, Peter Stokes, introducing Microsoft’s new online services, staked a claim for the company’s long experience in “the cloud,” noting that Windows Update, the desktop operating system’s online system maintenance tool, is a cloud service.

It seemed, briefly, to be a bit too desperate of a reach for a dignified company like Microsoft, a bit of grabbing for credibility in a world that’s moved much of its computing to online tools.
The statement also seemed out of sync with what Microsoft is actually doing in the cloud, that fluffy term that encompasses services and software delivered via the Internet, usually in the window of a web browser.

Aggressively working to reassert its presence as a preferred provider of productivity software online as well as on the desktop, the company launched a suite of software available free for consumers that it dubs its “web apps,” but it’s also working to deliver deeper web connections to its enterprise customers.
Office 2010, launched in Trinidad and Tobago on June 09, is both a spit and polish reissue of its market commanding collection of workplace software and a dramatic rethinking of the way the product connects in corporate environments.
The company’s pretty but underpowered web apps (reviewed last week) are not the products that it is offering to corporate customers with large Office installations.

And here’s where things get a bit curious. Some aspects of the Office suite make perfect sense offered as online services rather than as corporate installations, but the Office software suite is a hefty thing, rich with features but demanding of hardware.
Microsoft is offering users who install the Office suite on their hardware a hybrid of hardware based software more seamlessly merged with easier setup of online communications and data sharing services delivered by their servers.
Outlook, the first fully featured Office software to have an online version, is a dead ringer for the software on the desktop and offers an interface that’s identical.

If I read the prospectus on this new release correctly, the Online Services model offers Exchange and Sharepoint users a choice of working with it in their corporate backroom or on Microsoft’s servers.
“Microsoft in the cloud is familiar, secure, and a seamless extension of the desktop,” Stokes noted.
The cloud crops up frequently in Microsoft’s messaging about the Office 2010 release. At a tech launch the day before the general launch in Trinidad and Tobago, Microsoft’s General Manager Pradeep Raman pretty much summed it up by saying, “Cloud computing is the future direction of our company.”

Moving interoffice networking and communications to offsite servers accessible by the Internet is the first step, and while dedicated Microsoft Office users will find improvements in the newest release of the productivity suite, Office 2010 feels more like the springboard to another way of thinking about working in the office than an evolution of the desktop product.

Notable new Office 2010 features
  • New Powerpoint transitions, including one that explodes a slide into shards and reassembles them like a science fiction movie special effect. The new photo effect tools and embedded video may prove more useful in the long term though.
  • Design themes in the Access database bring one-click ribbon formatting to databases.
  • Better typographic controls and PDF export enhance Publisher.
  • Outlook’s “collapse threads” option looks promising as a way to clear up messy in-boxes.
  • Excel’s “sparklines” put wee little trend graphs in the spreadsheet’s column view.
  • Context sensitive spell checking puts much needed smarts into Word’s text review tool.
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