Tag Archives | Office Suites

Office 2010 Goes Public Next Month

office2010logoMicrosoft is planning to release a public test version of Office 2010 next month, reports Cnet’s Ina Fried. The company’s technical betas of the suite and its Web-based version have been open to only a relatively small pool of testers, so the upcoming release will be the first time that anyone with an interest in what’s next for Office will be able to get some hands-on experience.

I’ve spent time with Office 2010 in its software and service incarnations, and while there’s some good stuff in both, I’m still reserving judgement until Microsoft releases more fully-baked versions–the Web suite and other collaborative features in the previews I tried were simultaneously the most (theoretically) interesting new features and the furthest from completion. (Large chunks were still simply missing in action.) Let’s hope the November preview is feature-complete, or close to it…

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What, Exactly, Does It Mean to Go Google?

Back in August, Google launched an advertising campaign aimed at business customers called Going Google. It involved billboards in four major U.S. cities and defined “Going Google” thusly:

Going Google

Tonight, it’s expanding the campaign by bringing the ads to airports, train stations, and other locations in Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Singapore, the UK and the US. But here’s how a new video defines Going Google:

Going Google

Google’s enterprise products, as defined by the video, include not only Google Apps but also the Google Search Appliance device and its Postini e-mail security/management service.

The expanded definition doesn’t seem to have affected how many companies Google defines as having Gone Google–it said 1.75 million had done so in early August, with 3,000 more doing so every day, and now claims 2 million such customers–about what it should have after another couple of months of growth. But the notion of doing some enterprise business with Google is less intimidating than “switching to Google Apps.” In the new campaign, Google says that sixty percent of the Fortune 100 and sixty percent of the world’s top brands have Gone Google, a claim which is impressive but also suggests that Google decided to define Going Google loosely enough that it’s not a weird exception to the rule but something that the majority of major companies have done.

I wonder whether any of the companies Google now says have gone Google–Genentech, Motorla Mobile Devices, Northwestern University, New York Life, the Onion, Rentokil Initial, Telegraph Media Group, and others–are Search Appliance or Postini customers but not Google Apps users. It’s also worth noting that the first two organizations Google mentions as having Gone Google are ones with deep Google ties: Genentech’s former CEO was a member of Google’s board until last week, and Motorola’s Mobile Devices division is a major Google partner via devices such as the Cliq and Droid.

Earlier, Google claimed that 1.75 million companies had “switched to Google Apps.” Switching suggests a 100% transition from another product–ya think it might be Microsoft Office in this case?–but given that most of Google Apps only works when you have an Internet connection, and none of the apps have every feature every power user might want, I have a hard time believing that any company of real size doesn’t have copies of Office (or another traditional suite such as OpenOffice.org) floating around. Maybe lots of them.


My sense is that Google still thinks that dealing with the innate conservatism of big companies is one of the biggest challenges it faces with its business products and services. That’s why it’s making the point that it’s got a lot of business customers, including some big names. And it’s why it took the idiosyncratic-but-simultaneously-realistic step of releasing software that lets Microsoft Outlook serve as a client for Gmail and Google Calendar.

Mind you, I’m a Google Apps fan myself, although I haven’t exactly Gone Google: Depending on what I’m up to, I use Google Apps, Zoho, Sliderocket, Microsoft Office 2007, and Apple’s iWork–a sort of suite of suites. I’m just one guy, and Google Apps doesn’t have enough stuff to make me 100% happy 100% of the time, so it’s neither surprising nor embarrassing that the current version isn’t anywhere near ready to eradicate Office from typical large companies.

We’re nearing the end of the first phase of the Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office war–the period during which Google Apps is a service and Office is a piece of software. Next year, Microsoft will release the first true Web version of Office, and while I don’t expect it to be a massive game changer–Microsoft keeps insisting it’s a complement to the traditional Office apps, not a replacement for them–I can understand why Google would like as many companies as possible to Go Google before they have a new reason to Stay Microsoft.


Office 2010 Goes Free, Gets Ads

Office CardWhen Microsoft Office 2010 shows up sometime next year, the most basic version will have an appealing price: $0. Microsoft has announced that it’ll work with PC manufacturers to put something called Office 2010 Starter Edition on new machines. The new version will replace the venerable-but-languishing Microsoft Works, and will provide reduced-functionality versions of Word and Excel that don’t cost anything–and which embed advertising of some sort. PC owners will be able to purchase upgrade cards at retail outlets that let them turn Starter Edition into a full-blown copy of Office.

It’s impossible to fully judge Office Starter Edition until we know (A) just how “reduced” the functionality is, and (B) just how intrusive the ads are. (Companies have often talked about the idea of ad-supported office suites, but I’m not sure if anyone’s done it successfully; unlike Web searching, it’s not obvious how you’d integrate ads into a productivity suite in a way that made sense for consumers and advertisers.)

But if the ads aren’t too obnoxious and it’s easy to uninstall Office if you don’t want it, this could make sense–Microsoft presumably likes the idea of introducing cost-conscious folks to Office at no charge and preventing them from defecting to Google Docs or Zoho. Unfortunately, the free suite will be available preinstalled on new computers, not as a download–but if it becomes as pervasive as Works, it’ll show up on lots of machines.

Microsoft is also saying that there will be an online demo version of Office 2010 that uses virtualization to let you try out the suite without installing it–an important option considering that you can’t install Office 2007 and Office 2010 on the same machine. (When I’m king, there will be a law prohibiting software companies from releasing apps that can’t exist concurrently with their predecessors.)

Office 2007 was originally accompanied by an online demo version that the Office site says is no longer available. Don’t tell anybody, but it’s still accessible here. It works quite well–I wish something similar were available for every major application.

Anyhow, let’s wrap this up with a T-Poll:


Five Killer Microsoft Word Tricks

Steve Bass's TechBiteMicrosoft Word: I can’t think of another application I’d like to have re-written to meet my needs. I’ll kvetch some more another time. Today, I have five tricks to fire up the way you use Word.

Tabs for Word. Cool!

You know how quickly you got used to opening multiple tabs in browsers? It’s a smart way to quickly move among Web pages; without it, browsing is lots like running applications in DOS.

Office Tab is a freebie that works in 2003 and older versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Double-click on the tab bar to open a new a document in a new tab; double-click a tab to close it. A right-click brings up a useful menu where you can save or close all your documents; the Options menu lets you change the look and color of the tabs.

You can save or close all your docs with one click, or right-click the tab to close

Have multiple tabs any way you’d like in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access

The program is from a Chinese developer (his name might be wangminbai) and the Baidu.com site is confusing even using Google’s translation. The program, however, is entirely in English. Read the product description, browse through the FAQ, and download the Zipped Word tool.

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Microsoft Office’s Slow Road to the Web: First Hands-On Look

Microsoft Office LogoLast October, Microsoft casually dropped a bombshell at its PDC event: It was working on a new version of Microsoft Office that would include browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The Web version of Office is part of the suite later officially dubbed Office 2010, which won’t arrive until next year.  But it tiptoed a little closer to reality today: Microsoft has released a “technical preview” of the Office Web Apps, a pre-beta, invite-only test version which it’s using to get early feedback from a limited number of users.

If you’re not one of the lucky few, don’t feel too deprived: Microsoft provided me with access to the technical preview this morning, and judging from my first couple of hours with it, it’s a very incomplete rough draft of the Web-based suite to come. Word only lets you view documents, not edit them; Excel and PowerPoint are missing wide swaths of basic functionality; OneNote is missing altogether. Two of the most useful-sounding features–the ability to open documents stored on the Web from within a local copy of Office as if they were stored on your hard drive, and to view documents in phone browsers–aren’t ready yet. And I encountered multiple technical glitches as I tried to use the features which are available.

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Zoho Integrates With Google Apps Via Unified Sign In

ZohoThe most interesting company in Web-based office suites isn’t Google. It won’t be Microsoft, even after the Web-based version of Office shows up next year. It’s the much smaller company Zoho. Its productivity tools aren’t always best of breed, but they’re always inventive, and Zoho keeps showing its willingness to try new things at a fast clip.

At the moment, Zoho offers nineteen apps, all of which are available in free versions, and all of which are worth checking out:

Zoho Apps

The newest thing Zoho is trying is letting users of Google Apps sign into Zoho apps using their Google credentials. Which certainly makes it easier to mix and match services from Google and Zoho to create a custom online suite of your own…which is something that I was doing already. Along with a lot of other Zoho fans, I’ll bet. (You could already sign into Zoho with a standard Google or Yahoo account.)

Zoho Login

The New York Times’ Steve Lohr has a nice blog post up on Zoho, saying that the company is doing well despite being a fairly small outfit engaged in intense competition with Google. When Microsoft does release its online Office, Zoho will be up against two giants–but I hope it’ll continue to flourish, and I have a feeling it will.


Court Bans Microsoft From Selling Word

Jailed WordIn the latest apparent case of the U.S. patent system run amok, Judge Leonard Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued a permanent injunction on Tuesday preventing Microsoft from selling versions of Word that handle custom XML in the form of the .DOCX, .DOCM, and .XML file formats. Which would mean that Microsoft is now forbidden from selling Word 2003 or Word 2007. And since it also forbids Microsoft from testing such versions of Word, there would seem to be implications for Office 2010 as well.

The ruling responds to a suit brought by Toronto-based document management company i4i in 2007. Microsoft says it’ll appeal the ruling, which appears to require it to pay a total of $277 million to i4i.

I stuck an “apparent” in the first sentence of this story because I believe in the idea of patents, acknowledge that I’m not a patent attorney, and am willing to accept the possibility that a product like Word could indeed indeed violate a small company’s patent even though its removal from the market would cause massive headaches for millions of folks who didn’t violate anybody’s intellectual property. But the 1998 patent in question appears to be exceptionally broad, and XML is an open standard; if a company can prevent Microsoft from selling a word processor that uses customized XML to store documents, you gotta wonder if the company could use the precedent to kill off XML, period. Which would be simply nutty.

Of course, Word isn’t going away–not any more than BlackBerries vanished from the market as a result of the endless patent dispute between RIM and patent firm NTP earlier this decade. Microsoft has a 60-day window before sales must stop, and it could come up with any of a number of possible Hail Marys to resolve things–in fact, Computerworld’s take is that sales aren’t going to end at all. If Judge Davis’s ruling somehow sticks all the way to the Supreme Court, Microsoft would sign, grumble, and pay i4i a few cubic acres of cash to put the lawsuit behind it. (Actually, it would surely do a deal earlier in the process, and that’s presumably the outcome that i41 is hoping for.) That’s assuming that Microsoft can’t somehow rejigger Word or its file formats to preserve functionality and compatibility without patent problems; given that the suit was filed in 2007, it’s had plenty of time to work on that technical challenge.

In the short term, though, even a brief period of suspended Word sales is going to present massive hassles for vast numbers of businesses and consumers. What everybody’s going to do, I’m not sure–older versions of Word would XML capability wouldn’t be taboo I guess, nor would a version of Word 2007 with the XML features turned off. I don’t know enough about this stuff to know if WordPerfect and OpenOffice (both of which use XML) are at legal risk.

Me, I have a paid-for copy of Word 2007 and do much of my wordslinging in Google Docs and WordPress these days anyhow. But if PowerPoint (which also uses XML) is pulled off the market, I’ll panic…


Office 2010: The Technologizer First Look

Office 2010 First LookToday at its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Microsoft is announcing that it’s distributing a Technical Preview version of its upcoming Office 2010 suite to tens of thousands of testers. It won’t be a public beta that’s open to everyone who wants a sneak peek; that will come later this year, and the final version of Office 2010 isn’t due until some time during the first half of next year. But for the first time since it demoed some features last October, Microsoft is showing off the new Office and providing more information about its plans. And it’s briefed reporters and provided them with early access to the Technical Preview (including me).

Office 2010 will be the first version of the suite to reflect the era in which upstarts such as Google Docs and Zoho are delivering Office-like features in the browser, and charging little or no money for them. Microsoft’s response to the new challengers is multifaceted. On one hand, it’s introducing the first Web-based versions of the major Office apps. But it’s also stuffing scads of ambitious new features into the traditional versions of the applications, as if to prove its oft-stated (and accurate) contention that local software can still do lots of things that Web services can’t. And it intends to make the traditional and Web versions of the apps into a powerful team that’s more useful and versatile than either standalone software or a purely browser-based suite can be.

Unfortunately, using the current version of the Technical Preview doesn’t tell us enough to come to even a preliminary verdict about whether the final version of Office 2010 will be a no-brainer upgrade. That’s because Microsoft isn’t providing access to the Web applications or an array of new collaboration tools yet–and it’s the online and collaborative stuff that’s the biggest, boldest change planned for Office 2010. Moreover, the Technical Preview, unlike an almost-finished piece of software such as the Windows 7 Release Candidate, is still subject to meaningful revision before it goes out the door. It’s rough around the edges in spots, and Microsoft says it’s still looking for input from testers. So all I can say is that I’m cautiously optimistic about Office 2010 based on what I’ve seen so far.

Okay, that’s not all I can say–read on for my hands-on impressions of the Technical Preview, plus some information on the features that Microsoft isn’t ready to let outsiders try just yet. There’s a lot to chew on, so I’ll focus on the features thagt impress and/or intrigue me most.

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Still Needed for the iPhone: A Great Office Suite

Documents to GoA year into the era of third-party iPhone software, there may be 50,000 applications for Apple’s phone. But nobody needs that many, of course–hey, they’d be a tight squeeze even if you’ve got a 32GB iPhone 3G S. What you want are…the applications you want. One of the ones I want is a solid, simple Microsoft Office-compatible suite for my iPhone. And I’m still waiting for one that’s everything an iPhone suite should be.

Last year, things looked promising: The two major makers of mobile suites, Dataviz and Quickoffice, both announced plans to support the iPhone. Quickoffice got there first, but did so in drips and drabs: First, it released a version that only had a spreadsheet and some file management tools. Then it added a word processor that lacked core features such as autocorrection. Then it finally came out with an update that’s pretty good, but is still hobbled by the fact that there’s no way for it to get at file attachments in the phone’s e-mail application, since Apple don’t permit it. (Instead, you can shuttle documents back and forth via MobileMe or Wi-Fi.)

Documents to GoYesterday, DataViz announced that its Documents to Go suite was live on the iPhone App Store. And once again, it turns out that it’s less of a suite and more of a work in progress. The current version is a word processor that’s slicker than Quickoffice’s, with two-way file synchronization and optional support for Exchange attachments. But there’s no spreadsheet. DataViz says that people who buy Docs to Go now at discounted prices ($5 without Exchange support, $10 with) will get the spreadsheet for free later.

I’m not sure why it’s taken both companies so long to get their venerable, well-done packages onto the iPhone, other than that building a capable productivity suite that’s compatible with Microsoft Office is a larger challenge than designing even an admirable Twitter client. (Let’s not even discuss fart apps.) I also worry that the pressure on iPhone developers to release apps at the cheapest possible price makes it hard for them to justify investing immense resources in building ambitious stuff: Docs to Go for iPhone may start at five bucks, but the highest-end version of its Palm-based ancestor goes for $90. But maybe suite companies will end up selling enough iPhone products in such high volume that it’ll work out.

Long-term, I remain optimistic: Quickoffice has already made a lot of progress, and a few minutes with Documents to Go’s word processor will tell you that DataViz hasn’t been slacking–it’s just been making sure that what it releases is really good. I also think that Apple will eventually give apps like these the hooks into the OS they need to be integrated with e-mail and other iPhone apps. For now, though, I’m still waiting for iPhone suites to give me everything that came standard on my Psion Series 3 palmtop fifteen years ago.