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What Your Organization Should Know about Office 2010

Learn about the latest version of Microsoft Office and what the new features can do for your nonprofit or library

Microsoft Office logo 
Elliot Harmon and Jim Lynch - March 27, 2012
Considering an upgrade to Office 2010 but not sure how it'll impact your organization? We take a look at Office 2010, its features, improvements, and compatibility with earlier versions.

Microsoft Office is a productivity suite that's largely ubiquitous in work environments around the world. Qualified nonprofits and public libraries can request donated Office packages through TechSoup, paying only a small administrative fee (for more information on how TechSoup's Microsoft donations work, see Your Guide to Microsoft Donations Through TechSoup).

Is your public library or nonprofit ready for a move to Office 2010? Will any of the new features benefit your organization? Will an upgrade to Office 2010 impact compatibility with older versions of Office or other productivity suites? In this article, we'll briefly outline the new features in Office 2010. Next, we'll discuss the package's touted collaboration features and discuss how they might change your organization's workflow. Finally, we'll look at compatibility issues with older versions of Office.

New Features in Office 2010

It would be unwieldy to list every new feature in Office 2010, but here are a few of particular interest to nonprofits and public libraries.

Co-Authoring and Office Web Apps

The most significant changes in Office 2010 are its improvements to collaboration, both within an office environment and over the Internet. For more information, see the next section of this article where we'll discuss the Web Apps features in more detail.

Improvements to the Ribbon Interface

Office 2010 forges ahead with Ribbon, a new type of menu that Microsoft introduced with Office 2007, with a few improvements. You can now create your own Ribbon tabs for quick access to functions that you frequently need.

Photo Editor

Office 2010 includes a simple photo editor that you can access from Word or PowerPoint to make quick edits to your graphics. It's not nearly as advanced as Adobe Photoshop or similar programs, but when all you need to do is brighten a photograph or make a similar edit, it's a convenient alternative.

Video Editing and Export

PowerPoint 2010 adds an editor for making changes to videos embedded in PowerPoint presentations. For example, if you insert a long video interview into a PowerPoint file but only want to include a short portion of it in your presentation, you can make the appropriate cuts from within the PowerPoint interface rather than switching to a video-editing application. The new version also boasts an "Export to Video" function, letting you turn your PowerPoint presentations into videos that you can burn to a DVD or share on video sites like YouTube.

Social Connector

Outlook 2010 lets you sync your contacts with those in popular social networking websites. When a social networking contact updates her phone number, for example, your Outlook address book will reflect the change. You can also view contacts' status updates and other online activities, as well as send messages and post updates to your networking profiles from within Outlook.

This feature could be very useful for many nonprofits: it could help bridge the gap between online interaction with your audience and more personalized, direct requests. In the Beta version, this feature works only with professional social networking site LinkedIn, but Microsoft has said that Facebook and MySpace will both be available in the full version. For more information, watch this video demonstration the feature and read a blog post about it from the Outlook team. (This feature works only with 32-bit versions of Office.)

For more information on the top new benefits for each product as well as third-party reviews, see the "Additional Resources" section at the end of this article.

Office 2010 and Collaboration

The most significant improvements in Office 2010 — and the ones that offer the most interesting possibilities for the nonprofit and library sectors — are in how the software facilitates collaboration among multiple users. Microsoft Web Apps allows multiple users to collaborate over the Internet, while the new SharePoint Workspace (previously known as Microsoft Groove), changes how users can work together on projects within an office environment.

Office 2010's web-based component, a follow-up to Office Live Workspace, is called Office Web Apps. The Office Web Apps include online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote (an online place to keep online notebooks containing notes, links, audio, and video clips). The Office Web Apps let users create, edit, save, and collaborate on documents online. They let users access their files anywhere, from any device (including smartphones) with an Internet connection and a web browser. Microsoft is expected to launch Office 2010 and Office Web Apps in mid-June 2010. The Office Web Apps versions of Word and OneNote may become available some weeks after launch, though.

Office Web Apps are free through Windows Live, Microsoft's array of online services (Windows Live includes over 33 services like Hotmail email, SkyDrive file storage, an online contact database, photo gallery, instant messaging, personal blog spaces, maps, and mobile phone services and on and on. See a full list of all the Windows Live services).

Office Web Apps have a similar look and feel to their desktop-based counterparts, and are designed to work well in the Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox web browsers. All the applications sport the Ribbon menu system from Office 2007 and 2010.

There are two versions of Office Web Apps:

Microsoft Office Web Apps for Home and School

This free consumer version requires no purchase of Office 2010. It allows a single person or group to create and edit documents and collaborate or work together on the documents through a web browser, in real time. This version requires users to save documents to Windows Live SkyDrive before collaborating on them (each free Windows Live SkyDrive account comes with a hefty 25 gigabytes of storage).

Microsoft Office Web Apps for Home and School can do the basics, but not all the functions of the desktop versions of Office 2010. The Word web app lets you create basic word processing documents that can include tables, bullets, styles, spell checking, and auto-correct. You can share and co-author documents in real time. The web version of Excel permits collaborating on spreadsheets as well in real time and employs the same Excel formulas as the desktop version. It also allows users to publish spreadsheets to blogs, wikis, or other websites. The web app version of PowerPoint lets users pick a theme, edit slide layouts, add or remove slides, edit text, add animations, and basic video and image editing.

The free version of Office Web Apps is a good alternative for many organizations. The allotted 25 GB storage space from SkyDrive could serve many organizations' day-to-day needs (for perspective, a standard CD-ROM can hold 700 MB, so SkyDrive can hold over 35 CD-ROMs' worth of data). You can collaborate with colleagues over the Internet regardless of physical location.

Microsoft Office Web Apps for Organizations

This enterprise version is free with the purchase or donation request of Office 2010 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2010. This version stores shared files in your own SharePoint repository, rather than on the Windows Live website.

Microsoft Office Web Apps for Organizations lets users collaborate in two different ways:

  1. Through a web-based interface.
  2. Directly through the Desktop applications themselves, through a process Microsoft calls co-authoring.

Rather than having to "check out" shared files as in older versions of SharePoint, multiple employees can open, edit, and save changes to an Office file from a SharePoint repository at once. SharePoint keeps a record of what edits were made by each user, similar to the Track Changes feature. If your organization uses Office Communications Server, employees working on a document together will even be able to see each other's online status and send each other messages directly from the Office interface. For an in-depth discussion of how these live collaborations work, see this blog post from Jonathan Bailor of Microsoft's Word 2010 team and this post from the Office Web Apps team.

Computers must be running Office 2010 for desktop-based collaboration in Microsoft Office Web Apps for Organizations; however, computers that don't have Office 2010 can still access the browser-based version. In other words, in an organization running SharePoint Server 2010, an employee using Office 2010 and an employee using the web interface can collaborate with each other, even if the latter employee doesn't have Office 2010 installed.

Office 2010 Versions and Compatibility Issues

There are six versions of Office 2010: Starter, Home and Student, Home and Business, Standard, Professional, and Professional Plus. This Wikipedia chart outlines the differences among the six versions. Office Standard 2010 and Office Professional Plus 2010 will be available through TechSoup.

If your organization is already using Office 2007, then a transition to Office 2010 should be relatively easy: both products use the Ribbon interface, and both adhere to Microsoft's Office Open XML file formats. Like Office 2007, Office 2010 runs on Windows XP, Vista, and 7. According to Microsoft, any computer that can run Office 2007 can upgrade to Office 2010 with no hardware upgrades.

If possible, it's best to upgrade everyone in your organization to a new version at once (remember that Microsoft allows you to request up to 50 donated licenses in a two-year period). If that's not possible, then you may need to make some small adjustments or ignore some features.

Since Office 2007 and 2010 both use OOXML, staff running either version can share files, though there will be some slight cosmetic differences. If some of your staff is using Office 2003 or another office productivity suite, then Office 2010 users should adjust their default settings to save files in the older Office format. If some of your staff is using 2003 or 2007, then it won't be possible for everyone in the organization to use the co-authoring features we discussed above (though anyone can use browser access to Office Web Apps).

New Features in Office Versions

  Office 2003 Office for Mac 2004 Office 2007 Office for Mac 2008 Office 2010
Office Open XML No No Yes Yes Yes
Ribbon Interface No No Yes No Yes, customizable
Co-Authoring Browser only Browser only Browser only Browser only Yes
Social Connector No No No No 32-bit only

Additional Resources

For more new features, see Microsoft's "top-ten benefits" for each product:

Third-Party Reviews