Bits and pieces of news on the suite keep coming in as they should, so here’s a bird’s-eye view on the latest ones.
(i) Security improvements and workarounds
Office is not devoid of the imperishable vulnerability – hack – patch cycles, and the strategic approach that Microsoft will be taking with the 2010 rollout is layered protection, structured as follows:
- File block (enhanced)
Office will retain the “broad-brush solution” introduced for the 2007 generation and backported to 2003. “File block” allows both individual users and network administrators to block certain file types.
- File validation
Introduced for Publisher 2007, validation of older, pre-XML formats will now acquire a suite-wide reach.
- Protected View
If you can’t beat them, sandbox them. Files downloaded from the web or opened in Outlook will be handled in the “Protected View” mode, i.e. isolated in a read-only environment. The implications are yet to show through, and the apparent ones are fewer fuzzy messages and a somewhat greater load on the system.
(ii) The Office button
To cut a long story short, the black sheep in the interface will become history. It won’t irretrievably go away though, but will move to the ribbon to house Backstage View – the brand-new usability concept by the Office team. There’s a whole long story behind it, which in a nutshell is an aspiration to divide, conquer and subsequently expose two types of functionality – things we do with a file from within and from without. The without part is thus represented by the Backstage View, now to be labeled “File” (which again has a long quest-like evolution background, starting with the cleverly disguised Office button up to a bow towards the 2003 visual/muscle memory pattern, revamped by both the Ribbon and the Backstage concepts). An interesting feature about the Backstage is a triple-check approach to saving changes, something like “are you sure you are not sure you want to save changes?” As facetious as I might appear here, I still believe it is a useful feature. Not once has Autosave – literally – saved people’s skins. What we will now be offered in addition to that is the ability to recover work that erroneously remained unsaved by accessing the autosaved versions sitting in the Backstage.
(iii) Web apps
The technical preview release has sparked heated debate on whether Office web apps can compete with the other options, namely Google Docs. Reviews range from disappointed to expectant. The minuses include the very limited functionality available in Office web apps as of now and some glitches in performance. High fidelity view, on the other hand, seems to be delivering its promises. The edit functionality is available with Excel and PowerPoint only (yet), and OneNote remains left out. Significant changes will definitely follow, although the capabilities demonstrated by Excel in particular have prompted a certain share of “Google threat” sentiments among the early previewers. The Office Web Apps demo, by the way, is to be found here.