“Welcome to the future of productivity. Welcome to 2010.”
With that, Microsoft Business Division president Stephen Elop, declared that Office 2010 is available for sale to business customers worldwide Wednesday morning at a gala launch event at NBC Studios in New York.
However, beyond the flashy premiere and the new features, Office 2010 is more about collaboration than anything else, particularly when the latest version of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) venerable productivity applications are paired with SharePoint 2010.
Still, the company’s engineers needed to make a lot of changes — some small, and some large — in order to make the new version a compelling upgrade to Office 2007, which has been very popular since its business launch in January 2007 — whether they buy SharePoint 2010 or not. Those additions and changes need to be compelling or Office 2010 will not be able to displace its older sibling.
The key to making Office 2010 compelling: saving customers money, according to Microsoft.
“We expect a 300-percent return on investment over three years and a payback period of seven months,” Elop told the audience of business customers and media at the launch event, citing a study performed for Microsoft by Forrester Research.
High on the list of improvements aimed at increasing users’ productivity is applying the so-called “fluent” user interface (UI), which includes the “ribbon” context-sensitive tool bar, in a more consistent manner across the applications.
For instance, the Outlook e-mail client adds more ribbon features, making it more consistent with the other core productivity applications, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, which added the ribbon in Office 2007.
“Just the ribbon is a huge benefit for us … because it enhances our speed to market,” David Glenn, director of enterprise operations for Del Monte Foods, told the audience during an onstage panel discussion among Office 2010 early adopters.
Mark Mastrianni, manager of global technology licensing and acquisition at GE, added that he liked “the way that the applications, with a consistent user interface, all work the same.”
In addition, Office 2010 provides the new Social Connectorthat enables users to track communications history and social network feeds directly into Outlook, according to Microsoft.
Of course, also arriving with Office 2010 are the Office Web Apps, also featuring the ribbon UI, which let users access and work with their documents via their favorite browsers, along with the ability to store and retrieve documents for sharing with Microsoft’s cloud storage feature — Live SkyDrive.
Documents can also be opened in Microsoft’s mobile operating system — Windows Mobile 6.5 — and will be able to take advantage of them in Windows Phone 7 when it debuts later this year, Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Information Worker Product Management Group, said.
Added Elop: “We deliver the best experience on the PC, the phone, and the browser” — a shot at Google Apps and other online competitors in productivity applications.
Among the other highlights, Capossela, during a demonstration, showed off improved video and photo editing in PowerPoint, as well as a slide broadcast capability. He also showed off the new Backstage View, along with new display options such as Sparklines.
Business customers can get Office 2010starting Wednesday in 14 languages. Eventually it will be available in 94 languages, the company said.
Office 2010 for consumers and small businessesis slated to ship next month.
Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.