Microsoft has updated one of the most important tools in the accountant’s tool kit, Microsoft Office. This article describes the features in the new versions of Excel, Word, Access, PowerPoint and Outlook that are likely to be most important to CPAs when Office 2010 is released in June.
Each module of Office 2010 has received updates to features and improved ease of use. Although many of the changes from Office 2007 are subtle, the theme is one of easier access to many common functions—with buttons consolidated into single menus and the number of steps necessary to accomplish certain tasks greatly reduced, improving productivity. If you don’t want to wait for the retail release to try out the new features, a fully functioning beta version of the software is available free from Microsoft at microsoft.com/office/2010.
This article is based on the technical preview version of Office 2010, which Microsoft provided before the public beta version was released. Although the final retail version is expected to be substantially similar to the technical preview version, keep in mind that Microsoft might make minor changes to the software before the official release date.
TOP CHANGES IN EXCEL 2010
Microsoft Office’s Excel is an accountant’s best friend. One of the interesting new features is visible in the Excel screenshot below. Files that come from outside your network that are potentially unsafe are automatically shown in a protected view. This forces users to at least think twice about opening a file from an outside source.
Inside Excel, the menus and core features have minor modifications. One subtle but significant feature are Sparklines. Sparklines are best thought of as one-cell graphs. Sparklines permit you to analyze trend data in a single cell (see screenshot below). Sparklines types include: Line, Column and Win/Loss. While only providing three types of graphs could limit this feature’s usefulness, it is clear that it can make creating a digital dashboard much simpler.
Slicer functionality. Consider further analyzing data in Excel by using the new Slicer function. This filter allows you to take large amounts of data and easily filter selectively by various attributes in your tabular data. For example, you can have a very friendly user interface that allows selection of data from a large table. Or you can use the Slicer to filter data on multiple attributes at the same time. For example, you could select multiple parameters such as multiple quarters and company names.
PivotTable changes. The Slicer functionality has been added to PivotTables in Excel 2010. Also, three menu items—Summarize Values By, Show Values As and Fields, Items & Sets—give users easier access to more of the functions in one place while manipulating PivotTables. For example, if a user wants to Show Values As % of Grand Total, he or she can simply click on the Show Values As menu on the Ribbon and pull down to find % of Grand Total, so calculations can be done at the click of a button. This function has existed in PivotTables for a number of versions, but frequently accountants have not found where these capabilities were in Office 2003 or Office 2007, and it often required eight to 10 steps to complete a task.
What-If Analysis. This new menu item allows manual changes of data in a PivotTable to perform a What-If Analysis. Values that are changed are used in the PivotTable calculations. It allows you to manipulate PivotTables faster with more functionality exposed so you don’t have to hunt for what to do. As mentioned previously, since Office 2003, several functions existed in menus that were difficult to find (that is, calculate fields as % of X) because they lived in a right-click property inside the context menus of a PivotTable or a regular table. Now there is just a menu option so you select them and add them easily.
Insert menu. The Insert menu in Excel has been fairly extensively reorganized to accommodate multiple new features besides Sparklines and Slicer.
Context menus. Excel 2010 has changes in the right-click context menus compared to Excel 2007 in both general use and PivotTable functions. These subtle changes make Office 2010 easier and faster to use—again requiring fewer steps to get to various tasks.
BETTER DOCUMENT INFORMATION IN WORD 2010
There are much more comprehensive dialog boxes throughout Office 2010. When you choose the Office Button, you have more choices and more logical options in a single menu.
For example, in Word, pressing the Office Button provides the ability to manage permissions, share documents with others, preview properties and print all from one menu, which also displays thumbnails of prior versions of the document, including the author and modification dates—which never existed before.
The print view contains all attributes to control printing in a single place. Previously, all settings were not visible simultaneously. You had to flip back and forth to change settings, print preview, modify settings, then print preview again. Now it can all be done in one screen regardless.
Sharing options also all exist in a single spot. Users can send a document as an e-mail, link, PDF, fax, or place it in Share- Point or another document management server, or post it as a blog, and all the choices are available on one screen. In Word 2007, there was a menu called Publish, which enabled users to publish blogs or to place files on a document management server, and another menu called Send for sending via e-mail or fax. Save as was used to prepare a document as a PDF or an XPS. Sometimes users would have to use all three options. Now they are combined into one comprehensive menu. This also holds true in other Office 2010 modules (Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook and OneNote).
IMPROVED ORGANIZATION IN OUTLOOK 2010
Office 2007 did not change Outlook as much as the other core modules compared to the 2003 versions. As a result, Outlook 2010 is the most improved module in the new suite.
First, consider threaded messages. Note the e-mails in the “Server and Desktop hosting” conversation in the screenshot below. All e-mails related to this conversation are conveniently and automatically grouped. Threaded e-mail is new to this version, done by default, and permits actions such as moving and deleting messages on all threaded messages simultaneously. It looks more like Google’s Gmail, in which instead of having to delete or move all the individual replies to one e-mail message, there is one single “conversation,” with the newest message on top and the previous replies further down in the body of the same message. Outlook 2010’s threaded messages are a more convenient way to sort messages and allow the user to switch to date sort and back to threaded messages. The messages are not forever linked. This is Microsoft’s newest response to message management, allowing users to process e-mails with one click as opposed to multiple steps.
Quick Steps let you customize buttons in the Outlook toolbar to easily handle repetitive operations (see screenshot below). This feature allows you to conveniently select repetitive steps like macro programming in Excel, but the setup is much easier—like setting up Outlook rules. For example, I forward certain e-mails to my managers and I created some Quick Steps in Outlook that made it easier for me to process those in one step compared to three to 10 steps—sometimes more—in other versions. I can create an e-mail item among my publishing team that automatically populates to “please review the document xxx,” and populates the recipients, which is stronger than templated e-mails because I don’t have to CC everyone. I can process e-mail in one-third of the time as a result of Quick Steps.
Also, consider the overall menu interface, which now includes a Ribbon menu for the main user interface in Outlook (see screenshot below). While similar to Outlook 2007, there are notable improvements in usability, such as processing and filing e-mail more quickly by using fewer steps for routine tasks. Instead of multiple keystrokes to read, file or handle e-mail, you can set up icons to perform multiple tasks repetitively.
OTHER OFFICE TOOLS
Documenting processes or explaining applications is often easier with a screenshot or a screen clip. PowerPoint 2010, along with most of the other major Office applications, has added Screenshot to the Insert menu.
PowerPoint 2010 has more animation options, and other features to try to make your presentations more impressive. Microsoft has added an easy way to embed and edit video, which was referred to as Movie in PowerPoint 2007. This editing capability is a key difference in the new version.
Access: Access 2010 mainly has improvements in its Web features. Browser enablement allows multi-user access to databases whether in-house or across the Web. Web 2.0-like interfaces, expressions and reports are inside this release, which provides fast access to databases in Web browsers. Trend spotting and SharePoint connectivity are other big additions.
OneNote: I have recommended clients use OneNote for personal log books and note taking in prior versions. OneNote is an easier way to take notes than Microsoft Word with more features to help run meetings effectively, such as assigning tasks to attendees’ to-do lists. The search capability and synchronization between notes kept on different computers make OneNote a strong collaborative tool. This version has improved text recognition from handwriting and improved speech recognition, expanded support for tablet PCs, support for multiple computers and handhelds for a single user, and additional tools to help make meetings more effective.
WORKING ON THE WEB
A Web-enabled version of Office 2010, called Web Apps, will be available free for personal consumers, and as part of volume licensing for Office 2010 business users. Not all applications or functions will be supported (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote will be), but many users will be able to do review work on Microsoft Office files in a Web browser. It is very similar to regular Office, and works without Office installed, like Google Docs.
The biggest limitation is that all documents live online and cannot be moved back to your network unless you license Microsoft Sharepoint Server and have an open license. For business use, Office Professional Plus and Office Standard 2010 licenses will each include access to the Office Web Apps. A customer will then be able to run the Office Web Apps on SharePoint 2010. For personal use, Office Web Apps will be available as a free ad-supported service to consumers via Windows Live.
Documents that are edited between the Office software and the Office Web Apps retain all of their formatting and data. They can be shared in password-protected folders and assigned view-only or view-and-edit permissions to individuals or groups. Another option is to share with everyone so that no password is required to view documents that you specify.
PowerPoint presentations or data from Excel, such as charts and tables, can be embedded into blogs, wikis and third-party Web sites using the Publish feature. When the contents of those documents change, the embedded portions are automatically updated.
Because Web Apps are available via Windows Live and SharePoint, there’s no additional software to download or install. They can be used from virtually any computer whether or not it has Microsoft Office installed. A Windows Live ID is required, along with a Web browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer, Safari or Mozilla Firefox) and an Internet connection.
KEY STRATEGIES TO UNDERSTAND
Office 2010 runs on the latest Windows operating system, Windows 7, in addition to Windows Vista and Windows XP. Office 2010 will be available as a 64-bit application in addition to the traditional 32-bit version. In my tests, Office 2010 as a 64-bit application ran faster and with greater stability than when I installed it as a 32-bit application, but it must be run with a 64-bit version of Windows.
Although not the focus of this article, for planning purposes, you should expect new versions of Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint to further leverage your Windows 7 and Office 2010 investment.
You should consider purchasing Microsoft Open Licensing and Software Assurance so you can adopt Office 2010 as soon as your supporting vendors are ready. Most people purchase new computers with Windows and Office preinstalled and have 90 days to convert the originally installed license into an open license. Software assurance comes with a free upgrade to the next version, the ability for employees to use software legally at home, extended tech support and online training.
Pricing information was not available at this writing.
MOVING FROM 2003 TO 2010 (SKIPPING 2007)
Many of the functions and design elements introduced in Office 2007 remain in the new-generation product. The Office 2010 general user interface still includes the Ribbon, Tabs, Contextual Tabs, the Mini Toolbar, Galleries and Live Preview. Modified in Office 2010 are the Office Button and the ability to customize the Ribbon.
The learning curve from Office 2007 to Office 2010 is fairly gentle, but if you are on Office 2003 or an earlier version, you will need to learn how to navigate the Ribbon.
Familiarizing yourself with the Ribbon requires getting past the aggravation stage, but once you do, you’ll never want to go back to the old interface. You should schedule training time just to focus on the interface and usability issues to minimize your learning curve on the new products. It takes most people about two hours to get over the shock of the Ribbon menu if they are still on Office 2003, though it could take 30 to 45 days, depending on their learning curve. Users who are already on Office 2007 should require less than two hours to adjust to 2010.
Microsoft Office 2010 was scheduled to be released in June. This article highlights features that the new Excel, Word, Access, PowerPoint and Outlook include that are important from a CPA’s perspective.
Many of the functions and design elements introduced in Office 2007 remain in the new generation product. Those who are already using Office 2007 and are familiar with the Ribbon should require less than two hours to adjust to 2010. Those who are still using Office 2003 or an earlier version will require more training.
Most of the changes appear subtle but focus on minimizing the number of tasks required to complete routine or common tasks through consolidated, more user-friendly menus.
Microsoft is introducing an online version of Office 2010 called Web Apps that allows users to access Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote from an Internet browser, similar to the way Google Docs works.
Pricing information was not available at press time. The software will run in Windows 7, Vista or XP.
Randy Johnston (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive vice president at K2 Enterprises and a member of the JofA’s subject matter advisory panel for technology.
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Microsoft Office 2010 Beta, microsoft.com/office/2010