Launch: Office 2010 gets social

At the launch of Office 2010 local Microsoft execs demonstrated how the company’s flagship email application has become more social, and how Excel and Word have eventually made the move online via their new Google Docs-like Web Apps service.

Office 2010 is the newest version of their software suite, containing familiar computer applications like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook. It was launched at an event attended by hundreds of technology companies, users and badly-dressed nerds in Cape Town last night –- a day before the global launch of the product.

Microsoft’s Albie Bester reckons Office 2010 will make a real difference to our working lives, which tends to be centralised around email.

Here Microsoft has taken the step of integrating increasingly popular social media channels into Outlook, called Outlook Social Connector.

It allows users to stay in touch with their networks by accessing everything from email threads to status updates in one single, centralised view. Users can also view shared photos via the service.

“Through Outlook, people can keep track of email conversations, stay up to date with their co-workers, friends and family, see Facebook updates and LinkedIn pictures for their email contacts, and add a contact as a friend on social networking sites — without ever leaving the application,” said Bester.

Users can connect with their Linkedin and MySpace networks, but quite bizarrely not Facebook, the world’s largest social network, which Microsoft says will be “made available soon”.

Bester, sporting a Bulls sticker on his laptop, also demonstrated Microsoft’s Future Social Experiences or FUSE Labs’ Docs on Facebook. It’s a relatively new service, powered by Microsoft Office Web Apps, that allows Facebook users to discover, create and share Microsoft Office documents within the social network.

Strangely, however, a user has to re-upload their documents to Facebook rather than share them from within Word or Excel.

For businesses, the big news about Office 2010 is the way it allows people to work together in new ways. One of the software’s key features, demonstrated at the launch, is co-authoring — the ability for several people to work on a single copy of a document, whether online or offline, at the same or different times.

Microsoft reckons its “really big play” is Office 2010’s Web Apps — an area where the company is really playing catch-up with Google Docs, the search engine’s own web-based apps.

Microsoft says Office 2010’s lightweight web browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote will be available free of charge through Windows Live. And business users licensed for Microsoft Office 2010 can run Office Web Apps on-premise via a server running SharePoint.

This appears to be a major statement of Microsoft’s intent to assert itself in the cloud computing space against other Web service applications.

“Web Apps allows people to open and work on Office documents from virtually anywhere, on any device with an Internet connection. They can also share documents with friends, family and co-workers anywhere,” explained Bester.

The launch of Office 2010 comes on the back of Windows 7, Microsoft’s new computer operating system, launching last October. “Add in Windows Phone 7 series which will launch towards the end of this year, and people now have more power in their PC, Web and phone than ever before,” said Bester.

Other highlights of Office 2010 include a new feature in spreadsheet application Excel called Sparklines, which are tiny graphs that can fit in a single cell of a spreadsheet. PowerPoint gets the ability to edit video clips within the application, as well as the ability to create a video of one’s presentation and distribute it over the web and played without need for a PowerPoint client.

Businesses will be able to start using Office 2010 as soon as next month. Bester expects the consumer version will hit South Africa’s shelves by July.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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