With Microsoft Office 2010, due to ship in mid-2010 and being released to testers as a Technical Preview today, Redmond will push themes including collaboration and improved productivity.
Office's iron grip on the business world, though strong, is not likely to last forever, and Microsoft is starting to follow through on its "software plus services" vow by letting customers trade upfront payments for monthly fees, most recently by offering Exchange and Sharepoint software as a Web service for a monthly fee.
Slideshow: Microsoft Office 2010 Highlights
Microsoft is also counting on a more Web-based manifestation of Office to keep from looking like a corporate dinosaur next to fast and loose Web apps from Google and Zoho, as well as to protect itself from the shift from PCs to more portable devices including smartphones and netbooks.
In an unprecedented move, Microsoft will offer a free, albeit limited, version of Office for the Web where users can access documents via a Web browser. It is scheduled to release the same time as the full, paid version of Office 2010.
|Office 2010 will have real-time communications within a document that allows workers to see if colleagues working on a project are available online.|
The paid version — pricing has not yet been announced — has features that go deeper into the collaboration realm. But with the combination of a free, light and Web-based version along with the paid, heavy and desktop-based edition, Microsoft believes it can reinvent the way work gets done in the enterprise.
We'll have to wait until next year to see if Microsoft can execute on that goal. But until then, here's a look at three collaboration features new to Office 2010 designed to improve enterprise worker productivity:
Real-Time Communications within a Document
A box listing the people who are currently editing a PowerPoint slide or Word Doc will pop up in Office 2010. If you mouse over the name of a co-worker working on a project, a green light will signify if that worker is available online. If he or she is available, you will be asked if you want to call or e-mail this person or set up a meeting.
This feature will also allow workers to find colleagues within the company directory who have specific skills and invite them to join the conversation.
The use of "unified communications" within Microsoft Office is an effort to bring more social networking features into the enterprise, something business users have been clamoring for as their personal use of sites like Facebook and Twitter spill over into their working lives.
You could write a book about how much time is wasted e-mailing Word docs and Excel spreadsheets around companies so that various workers can make changes or give approval.
Office 2010 has a new feature that aims to keep workers in sync called "co-authoring." Groups of workers can create slides, a spreadsheet or a Word document collaboratively.
Certain team members can create and edit certain slides of PowerPoint presentation or certain sections of a written proposal in Word. A small box in the lower left corner of a document will list who is currently editing. Once a worker saves changes to a document, co-workers can look at it and offer suggestions or approval.
Remote Access of Office Docs
With the free, Web-based version of Office, users will be able to retrieve Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents anywhere using a smartphone or with a non-work laptop using any browser, not just Internet Explorer.
The Web version of Office is limited in the sense that it won't have all the fonts and formatting of the paid version, but users will be able to view and edit Office documents in a Web browser. This will come in handy for a worker rushing through an airport who wants to quickly check PowerPoint slides in a smartphone browser.