Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Office Suites Part 1 : MS Office 2010

 Microsoft has launched MS Office 2010 in India a few days ago. Priced at Rs. 4999 for Home and Student version and Rs. 10999 for the Home and Business version, it should however be available at a discounted price when bundled with an OEM purchase. Dell is currently bundling the Home and Student version with new laptops at Rs. 3000 which is a fairly reasonable price.

In case you don't purchase the suite,  your machine comes pre-loaded with MS Office Starter, a free trial version that includes only MS Word and Excel. Alternatively you can download the beta version from the Microsoft site, giving you a 60 day free trial. Warning : If you do this, the default option will over-write your existing copy of MS office. During installation you have to customise to install MS Office 2010 separately.

Also note that this time, Microsoft has NOT offered upgrade pricing for users of Office 2007; you have to pay the full price unless you very recently purchased an OEM/ licenced copy which specifies a free upgrade. Bummer.

I am a fairly savvy and heavy user of PowerPoint and an occasional user of Word and Excel.  So I need to consider the upgrade to Office 2010. Simultaneously, I am checking out Open Office to see if that works well for me. I do not choose to make a head-on comparison because I don't think it is entirely fair to compare a free open source software to a business-oriented offering starting at Rs.4000 and upwards. I believe that while they can substitute each other, they can also serve different need sets. And we are lucky that Open Office gives us an legally free option to MS Office.

So here is my summary of what works for me in Office 2010.

1. Cost effectiveness
The price gap between Home and Student version and Home and Business version is Rs. 6000 but the only feature difference is that the Business version has Outlook. If like me, you are on web-based mail for your business and use Google Calendar, you will not really miss Outlook too much.

Besides, Home and Student version offers 3 licenses in the price, which works out to Rs.1300 per machine - and that's just a one-time payment. I pay more to renew my anti-virus annually, so in my book, it is a good buy. I need only one copy, so I will probably team up with a couple of friends to purchase it.

2.PowerPoint upgrades
Given that my business is consulting and a consultant's only end-product is a presentation, a good presentation software is a critical investment for me.I experienced a quantum jump in the tools and quality of output when I upgraded from Office 2003 to 2007. As an evolved user, I would say that the jump to MS Office 2010 is not that huge, it's more like small tweaks that make a difference.

1) The ability to edit audio and video files in a presentation document is useful but not vital for me. I already use dedicated editing tools for my audio and video clips and while the embedded editing feature is an added convenience, I am not sure that I would use it except for basic edits. I also have bad experiences of PowerPoint slowing down, hanging or even crashing when working with very heavy files - particularly embarrassing is when it hangs while projecting a presentation. I am not referring to a limitation in PowerPoint here, possibly the limitation is my own hardware, groaning under the burden of Vista (but leave that for now)

2) I won't say the same for the picture editing tools. They are pretty awesome. For the first time, I get a few photoshop-like (and OK, Apple-like) tools to make picture editing a breeze. My skills and requirements for pictures do not run to learning or buying Photoshop, so these  new tools are a welcome addition

3) Built in PDF support finally puts Office on par with Open Office. Thanks a ton guys. In Office 2007, the add-on PDF plugin was an added irritant to download and install.  Till even recently, I get queries from people asking how to convert their documents to PDF

4) Cloud computing
We have already experienced this with Google Docs, but MS Office will offer the convenience in-built into the interface. You can share a document for editing through Web Apps (still to be launched) or broadcast a presentation live at a click of a button and people can view it on their browsers

Significant improvements are also reported in Word and Excel but I am not a big user of either so I can't really comment.

If you were to ask me whether I would upgrade rightaway my answer is 'maybe'. If I said yes, it would be in a scenario where I was feeling rich or succumbed to my geek side. Eventually, of course I will upgrade. You can say I feel a mild enthusiasm but no compulsion.