Category Archives: Reviews

Review: HP Z210 on ActiveWin

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity of reviewing some killer hardware for ActiveWin.com. The HP Z210 is a small form factor (SFF) workstation featuring some cool specs such as an Intel XEON Processor, SSD and 8 GBs of DDR3 ECC RAM.

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A few years ago I made a vow to myself that I would not invest in another desktop because the trade-offs they required such as desktop real estate, weight, separate keyboard, mouse and of course a monitor were becoming too much. My belief at the time was and still is, laptops are getting more powerful each year and even some models from major brands such as HP could make a good desktop replacement. There is just one area laptops have not caught up and that is raw power. Desktops remain a good choice because of the choice components used and a little thing called expandability. This review takes a look at a system unit from Hewlett Packard, the Z210 Workstation which out of the box packs a punch in a sleek slim line unit that not only is perfect for cramped spaces but offers little compromise allowing you to easily add and upgrade components with its easy to open chassis. Let’s take a look at the specifications:

  • Intel XEON E31245 CPU 3.3 GHz

  • 8 GBs of DDR3 RAM

  • 160 GB SSD Storage

  • Intel 3000 HD Graphics

  • 5 USB Ports on the front of the chassis, 6 at the back plus two USB 3.0 ports.

  • DVD RW optical drive

  • 5 in one card reader

  • Windows 7 Professional with SP1 64 bit

  • Weight 22 lbs

Read the entire review here

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Review: Hewlett Packard Deskjet F2480 with Windows 7 and Windows Live Photo Gallery

Its September, back to school is right around the corner, lot of last minute activities are taking place to get ready for the new school year. Teachers in particular have a lot do both on the back end and in the class room. When I talk about the backend, it could mean, familiarizing with the new curriculum, creating lesson plans or other educational activities teachers have to do this time of the year. My brother has been a teacher of the Industrial Arts since 1997. Back then, everything was done by hand with a notebook and pen as tools of the trade. In the early 2000’s he started moving to a digital workflow, which included preparing notes in Microsoft Word and printing them out for his students. It was such a dramatic improvement compared to what he had to do before. Back then he probably had to go to a lab PC late in the night, prepare the notes, get one print off and then get photo copies done for the next day. This was likely done occasionally.

With time and the commoditization of computing, teachers are able to get better access to technology. My brother now has his own computer assigned to him in the staff room, he has personally moved from our family’s old ALR which ran Windows 98 and an Lexmark Z11 hand me down which died after years of intense use. He now uses a Dell Inspiron 15xx series notebook and just last week he decided it was time to once again retire his most recent printer, an HP 3000 series desktop printer with something more powerful and multi-task oriented. That is, the HP Deskjet F2480.

I am going to admit, I do not do a lot of printing these days, but there are the occasional moments such as printing a picture or my curriculum vitae. The HP Deskjet F2480 provides a wide range of functions to make any Home Office user happy. You can print, copy and scan in a sleek all in one design that’s not too big or small. The gorgeous black finish is subtle yet attractive and looks really attractive on my desk next to my laptop. Some of the immediate benefits I notice with the printer is its convenience, you don’t even need to turn your computer on to use it! Before I go on, lets talk a little bit more about setup.

System Requirements and setup:

Windows Vista Windows XP
800 MHz 32-bit (x86) or 64 bit (x64) processor Intel Pentium II, Celeron or 233 MHz compatible processor
512 MBs of RAM 128 MBs of RAM
920 MBs of hard disk space 650 MBs of hard disk space
Microsoft Internet Explorer Microsoft Internet Explorer 6
CD-ROM/DVD or Internet CD-ROM/DVD or Internet
USB USB

The product box notes that for Windows 7, some features may not be available, for more information, go to http://www.hp.com/go/windows7 The installation DVD includes version 13.0.1 F2400 series drivers which notes Windows 7 support.

Installation is a 10 step process, from taking it out of the box to installing the driver software. For this part, I will deal with installation in Windows. Overall, hardware setup is very quick and easy, take it out of the box, open the ink compartment, remove the protective cardboard over the printer sensor, plug in the printers power adapter, turn it on, then let it adjust itself. After you have configured the hardware, make sure you insert a blank paper into the paper tray feeder, the next step is to install the included ink cartridges, remove the protective clear tapes, open the cartridge door, push cartridges into carriage until they snap. Close the cartridge door, wait 30 mins for alignment page to automatically print.

Once printed, open the scanner lid, place alignment page face down. Close lid. Press Start Copy Black button. The alignment process will ensure the best quality. What’s interesting, a lot of this is done independent of Windows. It was really a breeze. Now, finally, on to using it with Windows 7.

Installation

Those buttons are so retro.

Before connecting the printer to your computer, you must install the device driver first. You will need a USB cable (purchase separately) no wireless printing support. The printer setup screen is very simple, with a welcoming layout, although I must say those buttons on the screen are quite ancient and look like something out of Windows 2.03, I notice on the setup pamphlet, the Mac OS X setup is more elegant.

After clicking Install, I encountered a User Account Dialog, which I haven’t seen in ages since upgrading to Windows 7. Next was a prompt informing me I was installing on Windows 7, although there was no indication about why I got this prompt except for a link to more information about HP F2480 and Windows 7. Next up was an alert screen informing about alert dialogs during installation and I should ensure I approve them. Setup also recommended I disable my firewall and Antivirus. A bit drastic I must say and I decided not to do that, not out of fear, but I think its just pointless.

Sorry, but no.

I have to say, I started getting a bit annoyed with the amount of screens that required an action from me, this so far was proving to be the most obnoxious installation experience I have encountered in a long while. Although this screen had to do with the End User License Agreement, getting to the business of installation was becoming more like a hurdle.

I hope this is the final one!

Installation in progress.

Cobranded Windows Live Photo Gallery software included

I notice during installation, the HP software advertises Windows Live Photo Gallery for managing photo and print projects, although HP includes its own programs for such projects too. I notice when I installed the printer on a Windows Vista system, the software automatically placed a shortcut to Photo Gallery on the desktop. Installation took quite sometime, approximately close to an hour, I realized something was definitely wrong. Why is it taking so long? Look for yourself:

Yes, the problem was Adobe Flash hidden behind the installation window. There wasn’t even a icon on the Taskbar to indicate a program had halted the installation. Why do I need to even install Flash to install a printer? HP, ridiculous, ridiculous! Anyway, the installation proceeded with approximately 8 more task to complete. I have to say, in all my years of installing HP printers, this is probably a very disappointing experience. It lacks intuitiveness and simplicity. The time it takes is too much, just for 3 common task: printing, copying and scanning. I stop tracking how long it took to install after this.

The next phase was connecting the printer. You have the option of skipping this step, but I recommend you do it from now just to move things ahead.

Connecting the printer to my Windows 7 PC for the first time.

Windows Vista/Windows 7 integration – Photo Print Gadget

Even after this process, there was still more installation to complete, again, another example of how unintuitive the installation experience is. During this last, I notice that the installation added a Gadget to my Gadgets gallery. Called the HP Photo Print Gadget, it’s a handy little program for quickly dragging and dropping your photos for printing. You can easily specify print size and paper size on the fly.

Another dialog fooled me into thinking the installation was still in progress. A window advertising Windows Live Photo Gallery integration, it was not until I closed the dialog, the software installation wizard said I click finish. After 10 wizards, I finally had it installed, but not without another screen prompting me to register. I notice the registration screen is modal and I could not switch between programs until I closed the registration screen, weird.

Post Setup Task

After exiting the HP 2400 Series installation software, the HP Solution Center software launched automatically. Solution Center is a control panel like utility for all HP related devices, you can monitor ink levels, device status, order supplies and get help in a centralized location.

Working with Windows Live Photo Gallery

I noted earlier that the HP 2400 installation software provides a cobranded copy of Windows Live Photo Gallery. Since I recently upgraded to the latest Windows Live Photo Gallery Wave 4 beta, I was interested to see how it worked out with the printer.

Windows Live Photo Gallery wave 4 is the latest version of Microsoft’s easy to use digital photo management, editing and what I call, social solution. This new version features innovative features for geolocation, facial recognition, ability to publish to popular photo sharing services such as Flickr and social networks such as Windows Live, Facebook and even your Skydrive and Windows Live Messenger feed. Photo Gallery 4 also features the Scenic Ribbon which makes it easier to find functionality once buried under menus. Organization is a welcome feature and I prefer way more over the previous version in the menu structure. Accessing the print options is more logical and quicker, just click File menu and click print. My first task was try out scanning features of the printer.

Photo Gallery makes scanning a Photo very easy, just place the photo on the Flatbed scanner, in Photo Gallery click the ‘Import’ icon located under the ‘Home’ tab. Next the ‘Import Photos and Videos’ window will appear, display the source device from which you will obtain the media you want to import into Windows Photo Gallery. As you can see, Photo Gallery displays the HP Deskjet F2400 Deskjet, if you had your digital camera connected, it will also be shown. You can also import from other mediums such as DVD and CD’s.

Next, we click import. The New Scan window will appear on screen. Here you will see a number of options, such as the name of your Scanner which you can quickly change if you have another one connected, the type of content your scanning (Profile), Source. You can also choose the Color format, file type you want to import in and resolution which is the level of quality you want to import it at. The higher the DPI (or Dots Per Inch), the better the quality of the photo. Other tools we can see in the above screenshot such as Brightness and Contrast allow you to import with just right quality you want. But before we go any further, lets start working those tools at the bottom of the screen, Preview and Scan.

Preview allows you to get and sample of what the photo will look like when you scan and before you import it. You can see a preview of the Photo in the above screenshot. Now, I can go ahead and scan as is, but, why not make a few adjustments. You will notice there is a lot of white space, so what I will do is reduce the size of it. The four anchors shown in the window indicate that you can crop the photo to just the right size.

Now, I have my photo cropped to accurate dimensions, I can proceed with scanning and have it imported into Photo Gallery. Scanning takes only a few seconds, but the higher the quality it might take a bit more time than a few seconds. Once scanning complete, the Import Photos and Video displays a dialog with options to add Tags to the photo. This allows you use key words to quickly find and sort your photos in Photo Gallery. You can also quickly change options to where you would like the Scanned Photo to be stored.

Scanning and Tagging

After clicking Import, the photo will show up in your Windows Picture Library. You can double click to open in Photo Gallery and do other common task such as rotating, adjusting appearance or add effects. As you can see, my photo which was taken in Land Scape with a Film camera, needs to be rotated. Also, there are some white spaces at the edges. Lets fix those:

A few more adjustments to be made.

At the bottom of the Photo Gallery preview window status bar, you will see some quick tools for making on the Fly adjustments. One of them is the Rotate options. My Photo above will be rotated counter clockwise to quickly adjust it in its appropriate orientation.

Now that my photo is in the right orientation (land scape), I just need to remove that piece white border at the edge. To do that, click the ‘Edit, organize, or share’ button the Photo Gallery toolbar. This will take you to the Edit Tab in Photo Gallery. To Crop a Photo double click it then click the Crop button under the Adjustments group. You will notice a geometric frame appears on screen. Use the adjustment anchors to drag and adjust them outward until you achieve a satisfactory result or the white edges in my case are no longer apparent.

Once this is done, click the pop out menu below the crop button on the adjustments group and click ‘Apply Crop’.

Applying Crop Action

After applying Crop.

This is not a Photo Gallery review, but I just wanted to show you some of the tight, easy integration between the HP F2400 and Windows Live programs. I was curious to find out if there was any Device Stage support. Sure enough, there is, but the features offered are limited. If you don’t know about device stage, its really a way for manufacturers to offer unique content about their devices providing seamless integration with Windows 7.

Device Stage

Using the HP F2480

I have been using the HP F2480 just for a short time, but I am entirely impressed by its capabilities, documents print very fast and output for photos is high quality. Images scanned then printed are crisp and rich in color. You can make further adjustments in Photo Gallery to control contrast, brightness and other editing task and don’t forget you can scan at a higher DPI for the best quality. I like that HP has focused on integrating with Photo Gallery and extending its capabilities with tools to further enhance documents and photos. The HP Solutions Center is a great part of using the printer, you can quickly check ink levels, tinker with settings for both the scanner and printer. HP even makes it easy to order products for your printer such as ink cartridges.

I have always been skeptical about All In One Print devices, but after using the HP F2480 I personally am looking into getting one of these. My HP Deskjet 840c has done its time. The scanner is one of the most attractive features of it, I have a lot of pictures that I want to preserve and this is a great solution for archiving digitally. Are there any low points? Yes, the software installation experience needs to be simpler, more cohesive, informative and take less time. Once you are over the installation/setup hurdle though, there is a great experience ahead.

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Trying out Windows Live Messenger for iPhone

Microsoft today released the first version of its popular Instant Messaging client Windows Live Messenger for iPhone version 1.01. I took the opportunity to try it out since I saw some early previews of it. I must say I am impressed with this client, its very feature rich with a well designed interface that makes chatting on the go fun! Although it works on the iPhone, users of Apple’s iPod Touch can also use Windows Live Messenger for iPhone. Actually, it should be called Windows Live Messenger for iOS since Apple is now spreading their mobile operating system across various i-Devices such as the iPad and iPod Touch.

Installation

You have the option of downloading and syncing the Windows Live Messenger application from the iTunes App Store if you have iTunes installed. I simply downloaded it from my iPod Touch by going to the App Store app on the device and did a search for ‘Windows Live Messenger’.

I proceeded to click the free button and the very quick installation began.

Installing Windows Live Messenger for iPhone (please forgive the lo-res images, took these using my phone).

Signing in

Signing in was a breeze, when you click the WL Messenger icon on the home screen, you are immediately taken to the sign in page, which automatically displays the soft keyboard.

 

Signing in to Windows Live Messenger for iPhone

When you are signed in, you are greeted by the highlights page, which displays a strip with links of common interest at the top along with your status message. These links include, recent activities from your friends, your recent activities, photos and status messages. You also have a quick link to your Windows Live Hotmail inbox from with the application.

You can also view social networking activities from your friends on other networks such as Twitter and even view friend invitation, which is pushed to you.

At the bottom of the WL Messenger for iPhone app, are four tabs relating to social, friends, chats and photos. Social deals with activities that take place on social networks such as Twitter, you can even comment on your friends messages from within this window. The Friends tab displays your contact list, you can easily touch a contact and begin chatting. Windows Live Messenger for iPhone supports features such as favorites and ability to search your contact list. The Chat tab displays all your active chat sessions along with latest message from your friend.

Chatting on the iPod Touch

Users should feel right at home on WL Messenger for iPhone, most of the expected and familiar features are there, such as emoticons and the ability to do photo sharing which is really cool.

A beautiful set of emotive icons are available when chatting

Photos

Working with Photos on WL Messenger for iPhone is such a cool experience and its easy too, just touch the convenient Photos tab which will reveal your collection of photos stored on your Windows Live Skydrive Photos by default.

Viewing your photos on the iPhone or iPod Touch is a lovely experience.

You can view a slideshow of your photos, edit the name of the photo, or even apply an effect and share it with your friends. Photos even support the iPods accelerometer, so you easily rotate and view both portrait and landscape shots easily. You can even download the photo or use it as your picture if you want. Its very impressive to see so many powerful features available on such a small device, done so elegantly and beautifully.

Some of the cool effects available for photos on your iPhone

If you want to upload an album of photos off your iPhone you can do so too. Just click the add button, give it a name, choose your access privileges and touch Done. Some of the available effects include Glamour, Burn, Warmth, Rainbow and up to 36 others.

There really are no compromises here, I am really impressed with all these rich capabilities available. I notice you are also kept signed if you are logged into Windows Live Messenger on the desktop. Not so sure about that, I would also like the ability to keep conversation history synced between both PC and mobile, although some might argue that’s a security risk. Over-all, I am very excited about this. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, definitely download it, the best thing of all, its FREE! Which is something you can’t say about some of the other Messenger supported clients on the App Store.

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Office 2010 now available.

Microsoft launched the general availability for the latest version of its popular productivity suite today, christened Office 2010. I got the chance to try out the final product and I must say its an excellent upgrade. Microsoft is using a multi pronged strategy to make Office the best place for business productivity; this includes the traditional desktop applications Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc, but also the Web.

Yep, the Internet is now a convenient way to experience popular Microsoft applications, of course, these are not as full featured as the local counterparts, instead it offers new, exciting ways to experience Office while maintaining the rich experience of content created in the applications anywhere, anytime, any device. In addition using Office in the web browser, Microsoft is also pushing a richer mobile experience too, which is part of the strategy of having access to the power of Office anytime, anywhere and any device. If you have a powerful Internet connection (simply put, lots of bandwidth), Microsoft is also utilizing some of its investments from its virtualization portfolio. Users will be able to stream a full version of Microsoft Office 2010 to their desktop without installing the suite at all.

Simply download a small setup executable, and your applications will be streamed to you. Earlier versions of Office can even co-exist with the new 2010 release this way and the key benefit to is, you can still use the suite off line. Microsoft recently announced a partnership with Facebook.com to provide a service for Facebook members to collaborate on documents at http://www.docs.com. Basically you can share and work on documents with your Facebook friends. Some might ask, what is the point of this? Considering that Microsoft Office runs on at least one billion PC’s worldwide and Facebook has at least 400 million or more subscribers, the likely possibility of you being able to share and collaborate with friends is very high.

Collaboration and consistency are the key words that best describe the theme of this release. Microsoft is also focusing on making the document lifecycle experience more dynamic and agile. Office of course has to contend with a new set of competitive challenges such as Google recently boosting up its online offerings and Oracle’s recent acquisition of SUN Microsystems assets also brings the possibility of an injection increased focus on competing with Office through the popular free alternative Open Office.org productivity suite.

Microsoft Office is not standing still, and as you dive into the suite and popular products such as Outlook which introduces an enhanced user experience with features such as Conversation View which fits nicely with the recently released Exchange Server 2010, Backstage Technology for better access to management solutions built into Office while saving time when preparing large documents, you get the reminder why Office is still number one. Visualizing information is also a critical improvement in Office, and Excel 2010 in particular focuses on better ways of analyzing key trends in information with the new feature called Sparklines. PowerPoint has finally embraced multi-media full stream and users will be impressed with the tools to help deliver presentations that are more dynamic and informative, yet entertaining.

Microsoft has created a successful franchise that is Office, a suite of applications that pioneered cohesive experiences allowing end users to be productive by using a uniformed approach to working with information across a variety of familiar applications. 2007’s successful Office 2007 infused the platform with new momentum by further innovating through new ways of using Office applications more effectively with the new Office Fluent UI that exposed tools that were once hidden under drop down menus. With Office 2010, it’s about building on those benefits by exposing more applications in the Office family to Office Fluent. In addition to that Office 2010 improves the core experiences that initially made the platform so popular.

You can read the entire review of Office Professional 2010 I prepared for ActiveWin.com here

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ActiveWin: Windows Server 2008 R2 Review

During the development of Windows 7 I also had the chance to play with the beta and eventually the final release of Microsoft’s latest version of its Network Operating System, Windows Server 2008 R2. Don’t let the R2 moniker fool you, this is a major release similar to the client with many improvements and new features:

Introduction

With the release of Windows 7 Client Microsoft is also accompanying it with an upgrade to Windows Server 2008 adding the ‘Release 2’ moniker which in my opinion adds some major improvements that make the cohesive experiences between both platforms beneficial to both Administrators and business users on the go. Don’t be concerned though, Windows 7 works just fine in existing Windows Server 2008 and 2003 environments, but if you want to take advantage of the synergies, deploying both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 can definitely be worth your while. Honestly, I don’t know why Microsoft didn’t bother to call this upgrade Windows Server 2010 because of the numerous improvements Administrators and business users can expect. One of the significant changes Windows Server 2008 introduces with the R2 release is to focus on an all 64 bit strategy. Microsoft has committed to their promise of making Windows Server 2008 released back in February 2008 the last 32 bit release of Microsoft’s flagship NOS. With the plethora of 64 bit capable systems out there today and those that have been on the market for the past few years, I don’t see anything to complain or worry about. This does not mean the end of 32 bit applications either; we will continue to see those thrive on 64 bit operating systems for years to come.

Read the entire review here

Microsoft recently announced Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 which the company plans to release at some unspecified time in the future. Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 will introduce significant improvements to an already solid NOS. You can learn more here

Resources:

ActiveWin.com Windows 7 32 and 64 Bit Operating System Review
Windows Server 2008 Review

 

 

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Checking out Office Word Web App

Yesterday Microsoft announced the technical preview of Office Web Apps. A suite of Microsoft’s popular desktop programs Word, Excel and PowerPoint that are now built into the web browser allowing users rich fidelity of documents anywhere, anytime, any device. Microsoft Office Web Apps will be delivered as part of the next generation of Office products and services (Office 2010). With this announcement, its also official that Office Web Apps are now a part of the Windows Live which I am excited about. Yesterday evening, I had a chance to check out these applications and so far I am very impressed with what I have experienced. Let me get this out of the way right now, Office Word Web kicks Google Docs to the curb. From performance to the richness of viewing documents. Microsoft has a hit on their hands here and I can’t wait to see more functionality added to the service over the next few months. Microsoft Office Web Apps support the following web browsers: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Apples Safari.

Setup & Access

End User License Agreement

To use Office Web Apps, you will need to have a Windows Live ID (Hotmail, Live, MSN) account with access to Windows Live Skydrive. Once you have your account setup, simply go to a folder containing Office documents such as Word, Excel or PowerPoint or upload some files to your Skydrive (http://skydrive.live.com). When you open a folder with Office files in it, you will see a banner for the first time announcing a request to "Join our preview program to create, edit, view, and share Office documents online!" Once you click this link, you will be asked to accept a EULA which is currently a Technical Preview (Beta).

 

Selecting your Office document to view or edit

After setting up the service, select a document from your library, which will display a gallery of options, such as View, Edit, Download, Delete, Move etc. Right now, you are limited to viewing Documents, no editing which will be coming soon. My interest is primarily to see if the formatting is preserved in the web browser. After clicking View, your document will be loaded and that’s it!

How does it look?

 

A table rendered beautifully in Microsoft Word Web App

Well, its just like viewing in Microsoft Word on the desktop. Boring I know and that’s a good thing. You will notice that you are limited with you can do for now, but documents are rendered just like you would have them in Microsoft Word 2007, the same fonts, paragraphs and even tables are displayed correctly. 

 

Functionality available in Office Web Word app now are limited to viewing, searching the document, printing and scan through documents quickly. The interface maintains some similarity with the desktop versions in particular Office 2010. If you are limited on screen real estate, you can click the pop out button (located in the upper left hand corner of the screen), which will display your document in a separate window minus the web browsers file menu and toolbars. Alternatively, you can gain more real estate in either Firefox or Internet Explorer by hitting the F11 key on your keyboard. Performance is quite good, I was able to load 1.7 MB Word Document in under a minute, considering its 29 pages of text and, complex table and numerous images.

Office Web Apps are limited for the time being, but more functionality is expected soon!

 
Seaching a document in Microsoft Office Word Web App
 

Suggestions and Conclusion

Right now, as much as I love the Windows Live wave branding, I think it takes away a lot of real estate, this is not a problem on high resolution monitors. But for me, I would like to see more of my document, so possibly making the banner that reveals the path to your document in the Skydrive much thinner in height would be nice. Just like the desktop version of Microsoft Office apps, I would prefer if the file name is displayed in the title bar "Microsoft Office Web App (Technical Preview) – File Name" to maintain some consistency in look and feel. These are minor suggestions anyway, but I like what I see and it should open up a new world of productivity for users. For instance, I am working on the "ActiveWin: Windows 7 Ultimate Review" which is 67 pages of content, the most frustrating part is being told I have to make a few changes here and there. This means, I need to load up Microsoft Word, make the change then upload it back to my Skydrive Collaboration folder. With Office Word App, I don’t need to do this anymore, I can make changes or the person with whom I am sharing/collaborating with on the document can do this if necessary from within web browser with no need to download or re-upload. If you need to make more complex changes, you can always download the file back into Office Word on the desktop and apply changes. Its clear benefits like that I see Office Web Apps making a huge impact.

Resources

A look at the new Office 2010
The Microsoft Office 2010 IT Blog
Microsoft Web Apps: Microsoft Office goes to the web
 

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A look at the new Office 2010

Microsoft has created a successful franchise that is Office, a suite of applications that pioneered cohesive experiences allowing end users to be productive by using a uniformed approach to working with information across a variety of familiar applications. 2007’s successful Office 2007 infused the platform with new momentum by further innovating with new ways of using Office applications more effectively through the new Office Fluent UI that exposed tools that were once hidden under drop down menus. With Office 2010, it’s about building on those benefits by exposing more applications in the Office family to Office Fluent. In addition to that Office 2010 improves the core experiences that initially made the platform so popular.

Pre-liminary Requirement:

Operating System: Windows XP SP2 or higher: Pentium 1.0 GHz, or higher RAM: 512 MBs or above HD: Varies depending on installation choices, Resolution: 1024 x 600 or higher.

Test System:

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit Release Candidate, Intel Core 2 Quad 2.5 GHz, 2 GBs of ECC RAM, nVidia Quadro FX 1700.

Microsoft Office 2010 Upgrade Path warning

Setup

Microsoft for the first time is supporting a full 64 bit release of Office. The advantages users can expect include the ability to address more than 4 GBs of memory, more robustness and performance across the suite. It’s also a model of the future where the industry is expected to go, 64 bit is the future and Office is embracing it with full force. What I discovered though is that Microsoft Office 2010 64 bit will require a clean install, which means, there is no upgrade path from 32 bit Office. If you want to install 64 bit Office on a PC that already has a 32 bit version of Office, you will have to uninstall it then re-run setup, otherwise, choose Office 2010 32-bit. Right now, Office 2010 Technical Preview setup program looks identical to Office 2007, as the suite approaches beta 2 and the final release; I am sure distinctive branding will come into play. After selecting a custom setup option, I noticed that Groove has now been renamed SharePoint Workspace, what’s also new is the addition of SharePoint Workspace and OneNote to the Professional Plus SKU, which makes me wonder if Microsoft is eliminating the Enterprise SKU under their volume licensing programs.

Installing Office 2010

Office 2010 is big, requiring at least 2.5 GBs of disk space. This is quite amazing when I think back to when Office 95 full install used about 88 MBs of disk space. There are reasons of course for this, more features and applications have been incorporated into the Office family and suites, so it’s a given. With today’s enormous storage devices ranging in hundreds of gigabytes and terabytes, Office 2010 is more than welcome on most systems today. Office 2010 installed in less than 9 minutes. It’s something I have noticed with the Office 2007 release that the suite takes longer to install than past versions. I remember installing versions 2003, 2002 and 2000 in less than 4 minutes. I hope that’s one of the improvements the Office Team applies to this release because installing is excruciatingly long in my opinion.

Microsoft Office Word 2010 – Stunning

First Experiences

User experience is abounding in this release and you will notice it when you launch an Office 2010 application for the first time. Some of the Office 2010 application splash screens animate, but it goes by so fast you just might miss it. I see immediate performance in that area already, so kudos to the Office Team there. Word 2010, which is the first application I launched (of course it would be), you are presented with a gorgeous, graphically rich UI that implements strong use of the Aero Glass transparency effects with the Gallery Tabs area displaying faint semi-transparent background of your desktop or non-active windows. Is this important, nope, but it really looks good and I like the focus on aesthetics. Office has always carried its own pizzazz by presenting a new look with each release since Office XP. The Office Button introduced in version 2007 is now gone, thank goodness, featuring a more stylish, yet conservative tabbed appearance with a distinct colour representing each respective Office application, the File menu in 2010 is significantly enhanced. Featuring an information centre, the Office 2010 File menu is more detailed about your Office files. Immediately users can glance at topics such as Permissions, distribution methods, versioning, property information and improved life cycle management facilities. In addition to these, users can find common functions such as Save, Save As, Open, Close, recently accessed files which unfortunately were not preserved from my Office 2007 install. The New menu is greatly enhanced; a gallery of templates can be accessed much faster instead of the cumbersome Office 2007 New Template window which got in the way. Here is a tip Office Team, implement a collapsible panel for the Template Galleries.

The new Office 2010 File Menu showing Backstage Preview

Printing is also more accessible, built right into the Office File menu; you can quickly choose a Printer and different printing options along with a quick print preview (called Backstage) of your document before sending to the Printer. Sharing is also more simplified, with different Galleries detailing options for each task. The more I use Office 2010; I am saying to myself, this is not a minor update after all. The interface is well organized especially where the Office file menu is concerned, it’s too bad the application Options dialog was not incorporated into the File menu itself; this would have been a great way to reduce the mouse clicks and just naturally integrate with the Office 2010 experience.

Office Fluent or Ribbon in 2010 is more manageable, one of the first things I noticed was a chevron for minimizing the Fluent much faster instead of using the Quick Access Toolbar menu; alternatively, you can use the CTRL + F1 keyboard command. The Office 2010 UI is much flatter in appearance similar to productivity applications in Windows 7 that have embraced the ribbon. The Insert menu features a new Screenshot tool that allows you to quickly insert screen captures on the fly. This is a convenient option for technical authors who might be writing long manuals about features in a program and would like to quickly insert shots on the fly.

The Word 2010 Contextual menu adds some subtle improvements such as an improved Styles Gallery and richer Paste Special Options menu with real time preview of text before it is pasted. Word 2010 also adds a cool effect when hovering over the paste option, the context menu will automatically become transparent while you preview the different paste formatting available.

Excel 2010

Using Office Excel 2010’s new Sparklines feature

I tried my hardest to look for new features in Excel 2010 apart from the improved Office Fluent UI. Most of the notable changes were subtle, with a few re-arranging of some icons and features. For example, the ‘Existing connections’ source dialog from under the ‘Data’ tab > ‘Get External Data’ gallery in Excel 2007, has been renamed ‘Slicer’, and is now located under the ‘Insert’ tab. The Charts gallery features smaller pictorial representations of the different types of charts that can be created. A new Gallery under the Insert menu has been added called ‘Sparklines. Sparklines are tiny graphs that can fit in a single cell of a spreadsheet. Apart from some additional miniaturization, there is not much else to see.

PowerPoint

Not much was found, except for additional consolidation of toolbar buttons, such as the new ‘Record Slide Show’ button for recording narration of your slideshow. Version 2010 adds the ability to record your presentation as video. You can optionally, on the fly choose to have audio narrations and laser pointer gestures played during a slide show, along with the option to display media controls when you move your mouse pointer over audio or video clips.

 

You can record your slide-shows as videos using Office PowerPoint 2010

The Review menu features expanded options with a new Compare and OneNote gallery. You can compare and combine another presentation with your current presentation. Along with this, are traditional reviewing tools for multiple persons working on the same presentation such as Accept, Reject and completing a review. If you have OneNote installed, PowerPoint will install an add-in that takes notes about your presentation in OneNote. Links are automatically created in OneNote that can be used to get back to the presentation, or press this button to find any notes already created in OneNote about this presentation.

Access

Access 2010 was a tough exploration, because I just could not find anything significantly new. What I did see were improvements to Table fields that feature more distinctive variegation that made it easier to read fields with lots of information. Galleries have been rearranged and consolidated, Font Gallery and Rich Text has been combined into Text Formatting and moved to the extreme right of the Home tab.

 

Microsoft Office Access 2010

The Create Tab features a new button under Templates gallery called ‘Application Parts’, which seems to be a combination of Table Templates buttons now consolidated into a single option. The balloon describes App Parts as providing the ability to insert or create portions of a database or an entire database application. You can create tables, forms, and reports as database parts. Save combinations and use them to form common components. You can also save an entire application. For organizations and teams that build solutions on top of Access, this sounds like a powerful solution that reduces a lot of the manual work that would be required of previous releases. Other noticeable changes include the ‘Form Wizard now displayed within the Forms gallery instead of the ‘More Forms’ pop up list. The ‘other’ gallery has added some new buttons for Visual Basic for Office applications.

External Data tabs adds some features that are new, a web service button is now available under ‘Import’ gallery. Collect Data gallery has now been consolidated into the ‘Export’ Gallery. A new gallery called ‘SharePoint Lists’ provides tighter integration with Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal software. With the release of Excel 2007, Microsoft introduced Excel Services, one of the things Access users and developers were yearning for was better integration with SharePoint too. At the last Office Developer Conference, Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates talked about how the Office Team is working to improve Access integration on the SharePoint front:

“So the next step is to take that base of Access users and literally let them write things that connect directly up to SharePoint and so it’s server based. So it’s a logical step for Access. There’s a lot of smart people working on that, so in no sense are we leaving the Access people behind. The same way we moved Excel up to the server, now we’re moving Access up there as well. – Bill Gates

The Access Datasheet contextual tab, features some changes with expanded galleries, such as Formatting now separated from ‘Data Type & Formatting’, along with Properties, Validation and Table Logic. Some of the buttons seem to be non functional at this time. Table Design View features some new Gallery options for: Field, Record & Table Events along with a Relationships gallery.

Publisher 2010

No longer the black sheep of the family; Publisher 2010 embraces the Office Fluent user interface, along with some unique features that will make this release even easier for users in small DTP shops. The new Office 2010 File Menu is automatically presented on start-up. Featuring the programs collection of installed templates. If you want you can select a template, or click ‘Back’ to start from a new Blank Publication. Publishers traditional Task Panes have been replaced by a Thumbnail preview of pages in your publication. Personally I don’t like it and would have preferred the more productive Formatting Task Pane.

Office Publisher 2010 now embraces the Office Fluent UI and is also 64 bit capable

It’s quite interesting how all of Publisher’s numerous Drop Down menus have been consolidated into five main tabs in version 2010. These include Home, Insert, Page Design, Mailings and View. Familiar options once found in the Publisher Task Pane such as Page Options, Colour and Font Schemes along with Publication layout can all be found under Page Design within galleries, which is actually refreshing. Publisher 2010’s popular Mailing feature is identical to Word 2007, which is an example of Office 2010 going back to the fundamentals of what made Office so popular to begin with. The process of learning one application in the Office suite is carried over to the next. With Office Fluent, Publisher also adopts features such as Office Smart Gallary Shapes that will make it easier to work with.

As for that new Thumbnail Task Pane, it’s not bad, but I think it would be better if it was a Tabbed Pane while still keeping the traditional Formatting pane from previous versions of Publisher. Overall, Publisher users should be excited about this update of the application which combines the ease of use introduced by Office Fluent with Publishers hallmark simplicity when it comes to Desktop Publishing.

Outlook 2010

Outlook 2010 surprisingly takes on Office Fluent and I must say it does it well. Most of the new features in this release take advantage of Exchange Server 2010 such as the following:

A look at the new Outlook 2010 with Office Fluent showing message threads

  • Built-in e-mail archive
  • View Emails in Conversation thread
  • Ignore Conversation, which allows users to mute an e-mail thread they are not interested in.
  • MailTips – warns users before they send an e-mail if a particular recipient is out of the office and unavailable or warns users if the email is to be sent to a distribution group that is very large or includes recipients external to the company or warns if they are going to send an attachment outside their company’s firewall. MailTips will not be available on Windows Phones
  • Text previews of voicemails in Outlook
  • Tracks whether messages arrived with recipients

Office 2010 includes built in support for PDF publishing which was included as a part of the Office 2007 SP2 release. There are no changes to file formats except for the addition of ODF (Open Document Format) which was also included in Office 2007 SP2 and is not built in Windows 7’s WordPad word processor.

Office 2010 works great on the new Windows 7 operating system

Conclusion

Office 2010 is an improvement over version 2007, it’s not radical, but it still improves upon the fundamentals. I am glad to see more applications in the suite embrace Office Fluent UI which will further reduce the need to have an understanding of two UI paradigms when working with the suite. Of course, I have not covered everything Office 2010 such as some of those new applications that are now ‘ribbonized’ like SharePoint Workspace (formerly Groove), InfoPath, OneNote, SharePoint Designer and Project. This is an early rough preview and I need to sit down and explore the suite some more, especially the improved File menus which I find are more fun and productive to use.

Is this an upgrade every Office user should look forward to? The product is still in development, so I am not gonna call shots just yet. But for users who are still contented with Office 2003, XP or 2000, this is definitely an upgrade to look forward to. Office 2007 users who use core features of the suite and want a suite that simplifies task even more and makes working across applications smoother, this release should add even more agility to your workflow.

Another part of the Office 2010 equation is the new lineup of Web applications that will essentially take Office to the web browser making it available on any platform or computer out there. Microsoft has not provided code for us to preview just yet, but they did announce how they plan to distribute this radical change to Office. Office Web Applications will be available for free through Windows Live. It will cost customers who want a Web Applications platform hosted on their own servers. And users will also be able to buy a subscription to Web Applications through Microsoft Online Services.

Resources

Introducing Microsoft Office 2010 Technical Preview
ActiveWin.com Microsoft Office 2007 Review
ActiveWin.com Microsoft Office Publisher 2007 Review
Microsoft Office 12 Beta 1 Preview

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