We talk to Microsoft about Office 2010

Office space

Like Windows 7, Office 2010 has seen an almost unprecedented level of interest from consumers and businesses in its beta testing phase, and with the release dates looming, Microsoft is keen to show off some of the new features that the package contains. For Office 2010, the software giant has taken a dual strategy of improving on basic functionality and bringing in features that are likely to be popular and useful in the future. With over seven million downloads of the beta software, the latest version looks like it will be as much of a hit with users as Windows 7 has been.

What has been the primary aim of the beta release – is it about gauging public opinion on certain features?

Microsoft UK Head of Office Chris Adams: Yes, it’s a big part of what we do from an Office release point of view. It’s been the largest Office beta we’ve ever done and we’ve had a huge amount of positive feedback, both from consumers and businesses, about the new features that they like. In addition, this is really the first release where we’ve spent a lot of time and effort focusing on the consumers as a market for Office.

What kind of improvements are you making to the basic functionality?

CA: We collect a huge amount of user data that highlights some of the things people have issues with when using our products. A simple example is copy and paste; when we look at the most commonly used feature on Office, it’s actually undo. This means that people aren’t getting the results they want the first time, so we’re now adding an automatic live preview for people to see what it’ll look like in their document or spreadsheet before pasting. This is something that has proved to be popular with a lot of the beta users.

Another change to the basics is the new print experience. We now offer a default print preview so it really is a case of ‘what you see is what you get’ when you print a document. We’ve found that this reduces paper wastage by up to 60 per cent.

What about features for the future?

CA: Well, let me take photo and movie editing as an example. There are now tools in PowerPoint that allow the user to edit pictures much more easily without having to go third party, while basic video editing has also been added. That’s really a feature that we see people using a lot more in the future.

Partner Engagement Group Manager Tanya Shirlow: One of the things we’re hearing is how people are using more social networking in the workplace, and some of the features that we’ve got in SharePoint really enable social networking in the work environment straight out of the box.

CA: Obviously this is the first time where we’ve introduced Office web applications too…

This is the online suite?

CA: Yes, consumers will be able to use the online web applications for free through the Windows Live service. These provide lightweight basic editing functionality for users who want to take advantage of the flexibility that using a browser based service can offer them. We’re still very confident that there’s a huge market for people using Office on the desktop, and we see these services more as an extension rather than a replacement.

Regarding these online apps: I’ve heard rumours that Office 2010 will not be compatible with Windows XP. Would this be because XP doesn’t provide the kind of cloud support that Vista and Windows 7 do?

CA: I can confirm that the specifications for Office 2010 do include Windows XP with Service Pack 3. One of the other features that we’ve included is that we’ve actually made Office 2010 cross-browser and cross-platform. It works on Windows and Explorer, as you’d expect, but it also works on Safari on a Mac, Safari on Windows, on Firefox – we really wanted to make it as cross-platform as possible so people could get the full Office experience irrelevant of what configuration they’re using.

You’ve restructured the SKUs but you’ve also reduced pricing, what was the main reason for that?

CA: By bringing the price down and adding increased value to the release, we’re covering that gap between people who just want Outlook and people who want to be fully commercially licensed. It’s really combining the SKUs in the middle space and providing an attractive offer there.

We’ve tried to make the SKUs much easier for people to select the product that they want and having fewer versions makes it easier for our channel partners too. There’s fewer stock items, less shelf space, less learning for the sales teams – it makes things easier for everyone.

Do you have a more precise date for the release?

CA: For business customers who are buying in volume, we’ve tied the launch date to May 12th. For general release, we’re still aiming for a June launch but we’ll be announcing a more specific date in the coming weeks.

The policy of making the beta so widely available has worked very well for Windows 7 and seems to be working for Office 2010 too. Is this going to be standard Microsoft practice going forward?

CA: Yes, I think that these betas show there’s a lot more demand for businesses and consumers to have access to the latest software and technology. We’re certainly surpassing all the targets that we set ourselves for the testing phases, so it’s really great that there’s that amount of interest. I think that the interest in beta is a good forward indicator for consumer demand once the product release.

TS: Customers seem to be cautiously optimistic; they want to see how they can grow the business through the use of technology, and as far as we can see that is absolutely where the opportunity exists for channel partners right now. With the extensive deployment of the beta and the confidence that our channel partners feel around the product, we’re feeling quietly confident ourselves.

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