The next version of the best-selling software of all time, Microsoft Office 2010, is finally available in beta today. Get used to the new Office: We're all going to use this stuff at some point or another.
There's a lot new about Office 2010: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook all come with evolved UIs, taking cues from Office 2007's "ribbon" UI by using tabs instead of traditional menus. Word offers the new "backstage view," which replaces the old File menu with a sort of visual representation of it: You'll get a sidebar with live previews, which could come in handy for things like print preview. Besides that, Word (along with PowerPoint and Excel) also adds minor photo and video editing tools like color adjustment, cropping and trimming. PowerPoint brings the new "broadcast slideshow" feature, allowing you to beam a presentation to any connected PC with a one-click interface; and Excel adds some smart enhancements like automatically shading the highest numbers in a given chart, and Sparklines, which are word-sized graphs that can be added inside charts.
There are a boatload of minor changes in Office 2010, and we won't go into them all. The biggest change, and the one that's most exciting to us, has been around for awhile in some form or another: SkyDrive, Microsoft's online storage, now includes what's essentially the Office take on Google Docs. With any version of Office 2010, you get 25GB of storage space. That storage gives you the ability to create and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on the fly, with simultaneous group editing, just like in Google Docs.
There are two main versions of Office 2010: The full version, the price of which has not yet been announced, and the Starter version, which offers limited-feature (we might say crippled) versions of the three main programs in the suite, and will come free with many new PCs. With either option, you'll get the 25GB of storage space and access to SkyDrive. Office 2010 will be released sometime in the first half of 2010.
Right now, it's just technically available for Technet and MSDN subscribers, but you should be able to get a copy in another way, if you know what we mean. [Microsoft]