As Microsoft's much anticipated World Wide Partners Conference (WWPC) opens today in New Orleans, the company is laying out new details about its plans for the two products that most affect small and midsize businesses: Windows and Office.
Facing increasing pressure from online productivity suites like Google Apps, Zoho, Open Office and others, Microsoft announced several key changes for Office 2010, including new collaboration abilities, fewer versions, and new Web availability -- FREE!
Don't Miss: Microsoft's Office 2010 Site
Three New Office 2010 Features
Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote 2010 add multi-user authoring -- designed to let several people work on a document at the same time. According to Chris Capossela, Senior Vice President in Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group, users of the desktop versions of the software will be able to send out a text link that will let anyone click on the link and use Windows Live to open the document and work on the live, with all parties seeing each others' changes. Excel does not yet have this capability on the desktop, Capossela said, but the Web version does allow multi-user authoring. (I like the sound of this capability, but many attempts to provide this ability have turned out to be cumbersome enough to discourage heavy use. We'll have to wait see about usability.)
Outlook, meanwhile, gets an Ignore button. Sort of like noise-cancellation headphones for e-mail, clicking the Ignore button automatically deletes everything in that conversation, including existing messages and any new ones that come in. Capossela said the features is smart enough to tell if someone has changed the subject line, and keeps those messages from bothering you as well. (Anything that lets me deal with less e-mail is a good thing. Just don't accidentally Ignore a conversation that your boss thinks is important.)
A third new feature includes the ability to Broadcast a PowerPoint slideshow. Hitting the new Broadcast button will create a URL that you can share via e-mail or IM -- people can click on the link to see a the slideshow streaming directly from your desktop. Capossela called it "just-in-time show-and-tell," noting that it's intended to be used for quick, last minute presentations. "It's very ad hoc," Capossela said, and lacks rich media capabilities. (Nevertheless, this could be a great way to instantly connect with customers, for example, on the fly without having to set up a screen-sharing session in advance.)
A New Lineup For Office 2010
Those new features will be available in new ways in Office 2010. First off, Microsoft has simplified the product line up for Office 2010 from eight versions to just five. Capossela said that while some versions remain the same and others go away, there is one "new" version aimed directly at small businesses.
There are three versions for companies who buy Office retail or in conjunction with a new PC. Most importantly, the new Office Home and Business Edition includes Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote -- as does Office Home and Student, which remains the same -- but adds Outlook to make it the most logical choice for many smaller businesses. Office Professional includes Microsoft Access, Publisher and other tools. This seems like a no-brainer to me, aside from the small bit of sadness that there will no longer be a specific "Small Business Edition" of Office.
Capossela would not reveal pricing for the various versions, but coyly said: "I think small businesses around the world will be very excited about the Home and Business edition, not just in terms of what's in it but also in terms of value." (Let's hope so, as the competitors in this space are also improving rapidly. And many of them are free.)
For volume buyers, Office 2010 will come in two versions. Office Standard will include Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher, Outlook, and One Note (a new addition). Office Professional will add Sharepoint Workspace, formerly known as Groove, which has been upgraded to be a Sharepoint client.
Like the Office Small Business Edition, Office Basic does not make the transition to 2010.
Microsoft has also announced that Office 2010 -- along with Sharepoint 2010, Visio 2010, and Project 2010 -- has entered the technical preview stage, allowing tens of thousands of Microsoft partners to download the new updates. The company is also making partner-training materials available for the new products, including video demos.
These days, of course, desktop-based productivity applications are only part of the story, and Microsoft also laid out three new delivery channels for the lightweight Web versions of Office apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Sharepoint.
Consumers will be able to get them free via Windows Live. Capossela said users will be able to click on a Word document stored in Skydrive online storage area, for example, and view it in the Web Word application even if they don't have Word installed on the machine they're using at the time. (Many smaller businesses may find this level is more than good enough.)
Business users who need more security and control can subscribe to Microsoft Online Services to get enhanced access to the Web applications. (This could be worth it for SMBs, depending on what you get for the money.)
And Microsoft will now give every volume licensing Office customer the ability to run the Web office apps on premise on their own Sharepoint server, instead of the cloud. (That may not be of big interest to smaller companies, but security-obsessed enterprises may appreciate it...)