Washington, May 14 Will Office 2010 rescue Microsoft's ubiquitous productivity suite in the same way that Windows 7 resuscitated the reputation of Windows?
That's the billion-dollar question. And this week, with the official unveiling of Office 2010, answers begin to emerge.
Boasting a host of collaborative features, interface improvements, and seamless integration with the new, free Office 2010 Web Apps, Office 2010 is Microsoft's best attempt to redress the complaints that users had about Office 2007 while not throwing out the 2007 experiment entirely.
At the same time, with Office 2010 Microsoft attempts to fend off the advances of Google with its free, web-based Google Docs — viewed by some as a legitimate threat to the desktop-based application model.
There's no doubt that the challenges for Office 2010 were great. Here is an overview of the result.
With Office 2010, Microsoft hopes to lure back lucrative corporate customers, who largely took a pass on Office 2007, with enhancements that take collaboration and mobility to a new level. Word, PowerPoint, and Excel now allow co-authoring a document in real-time, for instance.
Rather than being locked out of a document when it's open on someone else's computer, you'll see a tiny "toast" icon in the status bar, indicating that the document is being worked on, and a pop-up will tell you who else is reviewing the document.
To get this level of collaboration, though, you'll have to employ one of two technologies: SharePoint 2010, which Microsoft released concurrently this week with Office 2010, or SkyDrive, the free online storage space offered on Windows Live.
The good news for businesses that take the bait is that SharePoint 2010 has plenty to offer in addition to support for real-time collaboration.
Among the headline features are the ability to take SharePoint content offline; personal user profiles that mimic what can be done on popular social-networking sites; social bookmarking, which provides a way for network users to rate content; people search; and access to the new FAST search service for SharePoint, which provides advanced filtering options for searches.
The "ribbon bar" — Office 2007's most controversial feature — has been revamped in response to user complaints.
Menu addicts will be disappointed to hear that the ribbon bar is not gone in Office 2010, but it has been enhanced.
You now have the ability to customise the ribbon bar by adding the tabs that you think should appear, and you can add or remove functions or features within tabs.
The round Office button that appeared on ribbon-enabled applications in Office 2007 has been replaced by a tab labeled File at the far left of the ribbon bar. Click it, and you'll see a new feature that Microsoft calls Backstage View.
Occupying the entire application window, Backstage View gathers together all of the operations you're likely to need when readying a file for distribution, including "checking for issues" (spelling and grammar checking), establishing read and write permissions, turning on change tracking, and previewing how the file will appear when it's printed.
The traditional Save, Save As, Share, and other file-related activities are also included.
Paste Preview is another suite-wide enhancement that attempts to address Microsoft's finding that many people undo a paste operation once they see how the text or object actually looks in the document.
Many people spend their entire day in Outlook, office's e-mail programme — or at least have it open the entire time. For them, Microsoft has managed to introduce fairly dramatic changes to Outlook 2010 without making the changes a drag on productivity.
The many interface enhancements focus on making Outlook feel lighter weight and more responsive while adding a level of customisability that was never present in Outlook before.
You don't have to stay tied to one computer to work with Office 2010 documents, thanks to the still-in-beta Office Web Apps.
These online versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel will be free to Windows Live members — a direct result, no doubt, of the competition offered from Google Docs.
Not as robust as the desktop-based versions, Web Apps will nevertheless allow Office 2010 owners to work, store documents, and collaborate directly online.
So is Office 2010 a suite you'll feel compelled to run out and buy? Certainly, if you're still happily producing documents with Office 2003 or 2007, you can stay put without penalty.
But for those who want or need to be on the vanguard of computing, there's little doubt that Office 2010 is more than a routine upgrade to the world's most popular productivity suite.