Several members of Microsoft's Office team dropped by CNET on Tuesday to deliver the final version of Office 2010 and talk about the changes that the company made since the beta test version.
To be clear, not a whole lot has changed in the version that was finalized earlier this month from the public beta version that has been downloaded some 7.5 million times. The final version of Office 2010, in its many flavors, will be made available to businesses on May 12 and hit store shelves for consumers in June.
Perhaps the most notable shift since beta is the fact that Outlook's new conversation view is no longer turned on by default.
"It clearly works, in some cases," said Microsoft group product manager Chris Bryant. "It clearly doesn't work for everyone. We'll let those folks who want the conversation view find it and turn it on."
My 2 cents is that it is a feature worth trying, at a minimum. A few pet peeves aside, I find this to be one of the most useful improvements in the new Outlook.
One other change Microsoft made was in the nomenclature of its file menu, changing the "share" option to "save and send."
"People didn't understand what 'share' meant," Bryant said.
That follows on the decision to restore the file menu itself, which had been replaced with an Office logo in the initial test versions of 2010.
I did get a clarification on co-authoring that surprised me, though Microsoft says it is not new. I knew that Word only allows one person to be working in any given paragraph at a time, even when collaborating. What I didn't realize is that the co-authoring features in Word and PowerPoint are only in the desktop applications, not in the browser-based Office Web Apps that are due out in June.
That strikes me as a blow to Microsoft's effort to take on some of the collaboration scenarios that are some of the most popular uses of Google Docs.
As is often the case with beta software, one must uninstall the beta and then reinstall the final version of Office 2010. But what I appreciated was the fact that a lot of data and settings are preserved. For example, I was still able to pull up the most recent documents and see the Word files I was working on using the beta. Likewise, my e-mail in Outlook picked up right where I left off, remembering my settings, password, etc.
For those wondering about those browser-based Web Apps, consumers should be able to get their hands on it about the same time in June, as Office hits store shelves. Businesses can run the Web apps today by installing the new SharePoint on their servers, while those looking to have Microsoft host an enterprise version of the Web Apps will have to wait until the SharePoint Online service moves to the 2010 version later this year.