Redmond wraps ribbon ’round OneNote, Outlook

Microsoft Corp will extend the “ribbon” contextual interface introduced in several applications in the Office 2007 suite to all of the apps in the soon-to-be released Office 2010, a company representative announced at a technical preview Monday.    

Microsoft will also simplify licensing for the suite, offering only two versions for business – Office Professional Plus and Office Standard – and three consumer versions, said Jason Brommet, Office senior product manager for Microsoft Canada Co., at a media event timed to coincide with Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference.    

Microsoft introduced the Fluent graphical user interface in the Word, PowerPoint and Excel applications in Office 2007. Content aggregation app OneNote and e-mail client Outlook get the ribbon treatment when 2010 launches in August.    

Microsoft partners at the event said extending the ribbon interface marks a commitment to continuing to include the context-sensitive GUI in future versions of Office. In the words of Stephen Kearns of iMason Inc,  “It’s not going away.”        

The unfamiliar interface jarred some users when it was introduced.

“To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the ribbon when it came out,” said Michael Herman of Microsoft partner Envision IT Inc But he got used to it, he said.        

“I think it comes back to familiarity,” he said. “I have a greater sense of being able to discover things.”    

Brommet cited studies that showed users finding 60 per cent more of the suite’s features using the ribbon interface.    

Kearns called Office 2010 “a maturing of the feature set.” Office had been a personal productivity suite in the past, but the release of collaboration platform SharePoint changed its focus to something more collaborative, he said.    

Shannon Ryan of Microsoft partner Non-Linear Creations Inc, which focuses on employee productivity solutions, agreed. “There is a perception these days that work is not done in isolation,” he said – more minds means a better product.    

One of the more interesting features is SharePoint Workspace, which allows SharePoint documents to be created or stored and edited locally on the desktop, said Herman.    

He also called the soon-to-be announced Office Web applications “a game-changer.” Office Web applications will offer the same user experience as the desktop versions on a corporate server. Consumers will be able to access the applications for free through Windows Live, but with more limited functionality.    

Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote will be available as Web apps, but Outlook won’t, according to Brommet.    

Among other features new to Office 2010: 

* PowerPoint users will be able to edit photos and videos within the program, with no need for third-party plug-ins. The new version will offer  new transitions to personalize presentations. Users will be able to broadcast slide shows through a SharePoint server or online through  PowerPoint Live. The new version will also offer the option to record slide shows as video files.    

* The Word navigation pane will allow jumping from heading to heading, and rearranging the order of sections directly from the navigation pane. Screenshots from other applications that are running will be inserted from within Word. When pasting into a Word document, users will have the option of keeping the original formatting, pasting text only or merging formats. 

* Outlook, along with getting the Fluent GUI, will have new thread management features, even when the subject header changes on a thread. An ignore function will block messages from a thread the user feels is irrelevant. The message view of calendar invitations will preview the user’s calendar for that date and time to highlight conflicts.    

* In Excel, a new SparkLines feature will create line graphs within a cell on the spreadsheet to visualize trends in data. Pivot tables will get a new “slice” function.