WHAT IS NEW IN  MICROSOFT EXCEL 2010?  /  VS  GOOGLE'S DOCS

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NOVEMBER 6, 2010 (NOTEBOOKREVIEW.COM) By Jay Garmon, NotebookReview.com Editor - Microsoft Excel 2010 was subject to perhaps the least radical makeover of any app in Office 2010, but that's not to say that the world's most popular spreadsheet application didn't see some significant tweaks. We break down what's new in Excel 2010.

Before I get into what's been added to Microsoft Excel 2010, let's address what's fixed. The macro recording errors that plagued Excel 2007 have been repaired, to the relief of spreadsheet jockeys everywhere. (In the old version, including shapes or charts in your macro recording would leave the final file with huge function gaps or worse, leave a blank recording altogether.) You can now compose graphics-inclusive macros without fear of random bugs creeping into your supposed timesavers.

Also nearly all of the features I detail below are not included in Excel Starter Edition or the Excel Web App. Both applications are free, and are thus subject to some notable feature limits.

Revised Ribbon

As with every other Microsoft Office 2010 application, Excel 2010 sports a revised version of the ribbon interface that debuted in Office 2007. The glowing orb Office Button from Excel 2007 has been replaced by a more traditional File menu in Excel 2010. The ribbon itself is cleaner, leaner and offers more enhanced customization options. You can even pin common functions to a quick menu that sits above the ribbon. Also, unlike Microsoft Word, the Excel ribbon is in a "constant on" state, so there are always some controls visible - just like in previous Excel versions. While there is no one-click process to make Microsoft Excel 2010 look like Excel 2003, the transition from the classic Excel menu system to the modern ribbon interface is much less traumatic in Excel 2010.

Backstage

The return of the File menu to the ribbon doesn't mean a return of the File menu that you're used to. Clicking File in Excel 2010 will bring up the Backstage view, which completely hides your active worksheet in favor of a full screen set of controls. All the options you associated with the old File menu - saving options, printing and document templates - are present, but with a lot of additional bells and whistles. For example, you can now save your Excel worksheets to Skydrive, Microsoft's free online storage service. (Skydrive does require a Microsoft Live ID, which means Hotmail and MSN Messenger users are already eligible.) This is a great sharing option since you can keep a version of a spreadsheet on an accessible-for-anywhere Web drive.

Backstage also contains the Help menu, a permissions editor and the options menu that lets you customize the ribbon.

Collaborative Editing

Microsoft Excel 2010 supports Shared Workbooks, which allows multiple users to open and edit the same Excel file simultaneously. If your office shares a common sales spreadsheet that many employees need to update, (particularly one on a shared network drive) collaborative editing means not getting locked out of a file because someone else has it open.

Collaborative editing isn't directly supported for documents stored on Skydrive. In those cases, you'll have to use the Excel Web App, which has a somewhat less robust functionality, but can handle basic data entry and calculations.

Protected View

Microsoft Office macros have been a glaring security problem since dinosaurs roamed the Earth (or so it seems), and Protected View is designed to finally close this vulnerability. Any Excel document or Excel-readable document with suspicious origins is automatically opened in Protected View, which means it's sandboxed with macros and add-ins disabled. You can't edit the document until you disable Protected View, but this extra step will let you read a spreadsheet without giving it free reign on your desktop. Any spreadsheet that's downloaded from the Internet or received as an email attachment is automatically shunted to Protected View upon first opening; if you enable editing once, the document is considered safe from that point forward and opens normally. Now the sales rep with the virus-encrusted laptop can't easily infect your machine by emailing you this month's order spreadsheet.

Sparklines and Slicers

For those of you who create custom reports and pivot tables in Excel, Sparklines and Slicers are two new Excel 2010 toys designed explicitly for you. Sparklines are miniature graphs that fit inside single worksheet cells. Got a long line of weekly data returns that you want summed up briefly? Add a sparkline to the end of the row and demonstrate the ebb and flow quickly and easily. These tiny graphs are a handy way to save screen and print-out real estate.

Pivot tables are the black magic killer feature of Excel, but those precious few data magicians that can code useful pivot tables are often frustrated by the people they're coding them for. Slicers let you build conditional displays into your pivot tables. For example, you may roll up your monthly revenue into a single total and display using a single chart. Slicers could let you break out - or slice - your revenue by source, and display the options on an interactive list of buttons within a report. Click on the Online Sales slicer, for example, and the main chart will shift to display revenue solely from online sales. Click the In-store Sales slicer button, and the chart will shift to display data from In-Store Sales. It's a simple way to make your pivot table reports more interactive and useful, while saving you the trouble of coding multiple charts.

Conclusion

Compared to most other Office apps, Microsoft Excel 2010 has changed the least from its Office 2007 incarnation. The improved ribbon is nice, and the integration with Skydrive is rife with possibilities, but neither is a serious game-changer. Unless you are a devoted number cruncher with a real need for sparklines, slicers or collaborative editing, there's no compelling reason to upgrade from Excel 2007. If you're happy with your current version of Excel, there's no reason to stop using it in favor of Excel 2010.

RELATED ARTICLE

Google makes Docs more like Microsoft Office By Bridget Botelho, News Writer 13 Apr 2010 | SearchEnterpriseDesktop.com

IT pros said that features in the latest version of Google Docs -- released this week -- make the application suite even more similar to Microsoft Office. Although changes came at the expense of offline support, for some users, the improvements outweigh the loss.

Google replaced its browser extension, Gears, with HTML5 to make its collaboration products perform faster and support more capabilities. However, it has dropped offline Docs support, which includes documents, drawings, presentations and spreadsheets.

One IT manager who switched from Microsoft Office to Google Apps last year is fine with the tradeoff because of the speed and functionality improvements.

"Discontinuing offline access is not ideal, but I don't think it will be that big of a deal," said Ben Baugher, a systems administrator at a heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment seller in Arkansas. "Most of the offline use is with mail and calendar [in Google Apps], which are still supported."

Jason McAninch, head of IT consultancy J-TEK, said his clients adopted the Google Apps product suite, which includes Gmail, calendar, Google Docs, Groups, Sites and video, because they almost always have online access through a traditional connection, Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity.

Accessing Google documents offline As of May 3, Google Docs users who want to access their documents offline have to save them as read-only PDFs or as Microsoft Office documents, which are useful only if the user has Microsoft Office installed locally. Changes to offline versions won't sync to online versions without third-party software such as Memeo Inc.'s AutoSync software, which lists on the vendor's website for $29.99.

Google Docs offline access was added in 2008 and gave users a local version of documents for offline use. Those documents would sync with the server when the user's machine was back online.

The company downplayed the importance of offline Docs support, saying in an interview that very few people actually use the feature. But in the same breath, the company promised to offer improved offline support as soon as possible. Google did not provide a timeline.

By adopting HTML5, Google was able to address requests for better document-formatting options including a margin ruler, better numbering and bullets, spell check and better image-placement tools.

Google's spreadsheets now include tools that Microsoft Excel users will find familiar, such as a formula bar that can be edited, cell autocomplete and drag-and-drop columns, along with real-time collaboration capabilities that let many users work on a spreadsheet at once.

Google Docs not up to par with Excel The spreadsheets and presentations in previous versions of Google Docs haven't been up to par with Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, and that has held back some corporate adoption.

For instance, Shaneal Manek, chief technology officer of Postabon, a New York-based deal-locating website, deployed Google Apps to "casual" users in the company but said it hasn't met the needs of "power users."

Postabon's co-founder, who handles accounting, builds the business model, and performs other graphic- and data-intensive tasks, found that Google Docs isn't as programmable as Excel or fast enough, and Postabon's CEO refused to use Google Apps because its presentation offering doesn't match PowerPoint's performance, said Manek.

"It gets bogged down when he works on big documents with lots of graphics," Manek said. "Ironically, he runs PowerPoint on a virtual machine on his Mac."

But Google said it isn't trying to match Microsoft Office feature for feature. The company said it consistently adds features based on mainstream user demands -- which are typically existing Microsoft Office features. At the same time, Google's browser-based approach includes multiuser collaboration capabilities that Microsoft hasn't offered.

Google's multiuser collaboration has been the company's niche, and it now supports up to 50 users working on the same file at the same time, along with live chats and moderation. (Documents appear as read-only for users over the 50 maximum).

"Being browser-based, we can do things that simply can't be done with documents located on desktops," said Anil Sabharwal, Google Docs product manager.

Online collaboration won't be unique to Google for long -- Microsoft will offer similar Web-based collaboration capabilities in Office 2010 via Office Live Workspace, which is due out in May. Whether Microsoft's online collaboration capabilities will be up to snuff with what Google has been doing since 2006 remains to be seen.

Microsoft Office vs.Google Docs: A Web Apps Showdown By Ian Paul, PCWorld  Last year, Redmond unveiled as a part of Office 2010 a suite of Microsoft Office Web apps that will compete directly with Google Docs. While Microsoft isn't letting anyone play around with the apps just yet, on paper, Microsoft's Web apps look like they could blow Google's online services out of the water -- beta or no beta.

Forget about the half measures of Office Live Workspace; Microsoft's new Web apps will let you create, edit, and save documents right online. Here's a quick head-to-head between Google and Microsoft Web apps.

Price

For personal users, Microsoft's Web apps will cost the same as Google Docs: nothing. All you'll need is a Window Live ID, and you'll be able to use Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Word online for free.

Winner: Tie

Look and Feel

Google Docs has a very nice basic feel to it, in keeping with the simplicity and ease of use that Google brings to its products. Microsoft, however, has no qualms about complicating things, and this time that attitude may yield good results. Microsoft says its Web apps will have a similar look and feel as their desktop counterparts, including the Ribbon feature. Microsoft also promises the Web versions of your formatted documents will render properly in most browsers, including Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox. There's no word on Microsoft's plans for the Chrome or Opera browsers.

Winner: Microsoft.

You may have to switch browsers if you're a Chrome head or Opera freak, but that's a small price to pay for the look and feel of Microsoft Office in your Web browser.

Collaboration

One of the strong suits of Google Docs is real-time collaboration in the Web browser. Microsoft is bringing similar functionality and calling it co-authoring. What's not clear, however, is how exactly co-authoring works. Microsoft says you must save a document to a SharePoint server or a Windows Live site before you can collaborate, but the company doesn't say whether you can work together on a document right from the Web browser or if you need to use the desktop version. It's also not clear whether co-authoring works only on a private network, or if you can collaborate via the World Wide Web. I've asked Microsoft to clarify.

Winner: Google.

Real-time collaboration right from the Web browser is a winning feature for ease of use and Google Docs will work from almost any computer with connectivity. Until Microsoft explains itself more clearly, we'll assume co-authoring will be limited.

Presentations

Both Google and Microsoft will let you create presentations and do limited editing online. Microsoft says PowerPoint's Web app will let you pick a theme, edit slide layout, add or remove slides, edit text, and add animations. PowerPoint online will also give you the choice of full-screen presentations, while Google has a near full-screen view.

Both Google and Microsoft give you the capability to instantly share your presentation online. Google lets you share through the browser and connect to anyone with a Google account. Microsoft, on the other hand, is keeping it in the family, since instant PowerPoint sharing will be dependent on the Microsoft Office add-on Communicator 2007 R2.

New desktop features included in PowerPoint include basic video and image editing.

Winner: Google.

Both presentation apps are almost equal in terms of functionality, and depend on desktop versions for deeper editing power. But Google's capability to share with anyone in the world right through the Web browser gives it a slight lead over the extra features of Microsoft's Web app.

Spreadsheets

What can I say about spreadsheets to get you excited? Not much; you're still going to be stuck in a world of macros, formulas, cells, and rows. Microsoft Excel's Web app will allow co-authoring and you can use the same Excel formulas you know from the desktop version. But Excel online will be a reduced version of its desktop counterpart. Microsoft also says it will simplify online sharing for Excel documents allowing you to easily publish a spreadsheet to blogs, wikis or other Web sites.

Winner: Microsoft.

The familiarity of Excel, plus the claim of easy Web publishing may push Excel over top of Google spreadsheets.

Word Processing

The world's most popular word processor should have Google running scared. If Microsoft comes through on its promise to deliver a desktop look and feel to the online version of Word, it could be all over for Google. Both Google and Microsoft will allow you to create tables, bullets and styles and have spell checkers, but Word online will also give you auto-correct.

Winner : Microsoft (for now).

Auto-correct is a nice feature, but I will also give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and assume its editing features are going to be deeper than Google's since it can port more features online from Word. I may be proven wrong.

According to my calculations, Microsoft just barely comes out on top with a score of three to two and one tie. However, Microsoft is making some big promises with its Web apps, and since no one has seen them yet it's hard to know for sure how well they'll work. Google may also stage an even bigger challenge to Microsoft later this year since the company is promising that Google Docs will undergo "dramatic changes in the next 12 months."


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