Office 2010 is here

I just downloaded and installed my copy of Office 2010 Home and Student and Outlook 2010. First impression: nice evolution of the previous release, although there are a couple of downers, so overall I would not call it a major improvement. I guess that if I didn’t feel the need to own and try every release of Office (and Windows for that matter), and I already had Office 2007, I would have probably stayed with that.

However, the upgrade from Office 2007 to Office 2010 wasn’t that expensive, thanks to Microsoft’s Office 2010 Technology Guarantee, so what the heck. Under this program I bought Office 2007 Home and Student and Outlook 2007 back in March. At the time, both where heavily discounted at Amazon, so I got them pretty cheaply. Interestingly enough, Outlook – which I had to buy separately from the main office suite – was much more expensive than the other applications. I guess they want to extract some consumer surplus from people that feel they really need Outlook and don’t already get it as part of a higher SKU.

Even though I already had Office and Outlook 2007, which I had bought in 2007 when they came out, installed, I had to install and activate these two copies again to be eligible for the free upgrade. So I did an uninstall and re-install, which was actually pretty quick and left all settings intact. Today, I just had to use my product IDs from the Office 2007 installation to download Office 2010 and Outlook 2010 from the Microsoft website free of charge.

The installation of these was completely painless. The installer removed all 2007 versions and while keeping their settings installed the 2010 versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook (the latter was a separate install, however).

A few disappointments

There is one little thing, one has to watch out for, though, when installing Office Home and Student: On the main installation screen there is a little checkbox for installing trial-versions of Office Professional that is checked by default. I find this a bit sneaky and not something I would have expected of Microsoft. I don’t want an application that I paid for to install trial software without my express consent. In my opinion, installing anything other than the main software that I bought, should always be opt-in and never opt-out.

A more important problem with Excel 2010 is the fact that it seems to have trouble with some of my existing files, particularly the diagrams in one of them. Unfortunately, this file is the one I use every day for keeping track and planning all my expenses. For this purpose it has several sheets, a couple of macros and diagrams to give me a cockpit view my current financial situation. One of these diagrams gave Excel some trouble: When I first opened, the formatting of the displayed data was wrong. Trying to correct that, Excel froze repeatedly and eventually complained about not having enough memory; which is ridiculous, because my computer has some 2.5GB and more than 50% of that was unused.  While this particular diagram isn’t exactly a deal-breaker that would make me go back to Excel 2007, this a major snafu and I sure hope there will be a patch for this soon.

Next, I think the “backstage view”, which has replaced the old File menu, needs some work. I understand this is new to Office 2010 and but this piece of user interface to me looks a little uninspired. It feels a little like this is the place they put all the options that didn’t fit anywhere else in the normal ribbon. It uses a lot of non-standard UI components with commands and sub-menus mixed together that I don’t find very intuitive to use.

Finally, while not the fault of Office 2010 per se, it made me realize just how small my monitor is. Especially in Outlook 2010 that now has the ribbon in all windows, screen real-estate has become a scarce resource. There are so many panes now left, right and bottom that there is barely enough space to see my email. Maybe now is the time to get an external monitor. Apparently, the 1024 by 768 pixels on my laptop screen are so 2007.

On the plus side

In spite of the problems I experienced, I think I am going to be pretty happy with this release. The applications look a bit more polished than their predecessors, especially with the silver theme which was pretty ugly in 2007.

Also, the ribbon in Outlook is a huge improvement, because it makes a lot of options that had previously been buried several levels deep in the main menu accessible with one click. There are several other things throughout the suite that make it a nice upgrade, like the new search and navigation pane in Word, the fact that one can now easily make screenshots in all applications and many, many more. For a more exhaustive coverage, check out Paul Thurrott’s Office 2010 review.

Finally, there are also the Office Web Apps which upon first inspection appear to be pretty decent. I was kind of disappointed at first to find out that they offer only a subset of what is available in the desktop version of Office, but I guess one can’t expect a web application to replicate the full set of functionality of one of the most complex pieces of application software that’s out there. And to be fair, the feature set of the web apps is already much more attractive than what Google docs has to offer.