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What's on the Horizon for Microsoft Office 2010?

As Microsoft prepares the next release of its Office suite, here's what's in store for the mobile worker.

What does the upcoming release of Microsoft Office Mobile 2010 mean for mobile office workers?

Well, If you're using a smartphone that runs the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system--like the Samsung Intrepid, Acer beTouch or HTC Imagio, to name a few--you can now get a hands-on first look at what's in store. That's because the beta of Microsoft Office Mobile 2010, a version designed for mobile phones, can be downloaded from the Windows Marketplace for Mobile Web site. If you routinely use and share Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint files, you'll find good reason to be excited about what Microsoft has done.

But what if you're using a BlackBerry, Palm Pre, Apple iPhone or other non-Windows Mobile 6.5-based device? You're still in business. With the 2010 version of Office Mobile, Microsoft is releasing a set of Microsoft Office Web Apps--which you can access through a browser-and a set of Office viewer applications that will run on a wide variety of smartphones.

The bottom line: With the capabilities delivered in the 2010 release of Microsoft Office Mobile, you'll be in a better position than ever to create, interact with and share Office documents. Let's take a look.

Office Mobile 2010
Although Office Mobile 2010 is currently available only as a beta version, which means it's not yet final and may be a bit buggy, it's still a useful indicator of where Microsoft is planning to go with its suite for the mobile office. Office Mobile 2010 supports the core capabilities you need on the road, enabling you to open, view and edit Word 2010, Excel 2010 and PowerPoint 2010 files on a mobile device, in addition to earlier versions of Word (the files can be local or remote). You can even e-mail updated versions of these files to your colleagues as an attachment to an Outlook Mobile 2010 e-mail. In addition, there are improved features for zooming in and out of documents quickly, so you can see what a chart or page layout looks like, even on a small screen.

Also, Outlook Mobile 2010 provides nice new features for organizing your e-mail inbox. You can look at all of your e-mails as grouped by conversation, so it's easy to keep track of related e-mail messages, even if they've arrived at different times. That's particularly useful when you're mobile and relying on a device with a relatively small screen.

Office Web Apps
If you're not using a smartphone that runs Windows Mobile 6.5, you may still be able to use your smartphone to interact with files that you or your co-workers create using the Microsoft Office 2010 suite of applications. As part of the broader Office 2010 effort, Microsoft is building web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. You'll be able to run these applications through a browser.

With Office Web Apps, you can create and manipulate Microsoft Office 2010 files, and you can store them in the cloud--either on a SkyDrive share (part of Windows Live) or on a SharePoint Online site. Best of all, Microsoft Web Apps have been built with fidelity and compatibility in mind. You can create a document using a desktop version of Microsoft Word 2010, for example, save it to your SkyDrive share, and access it from your smartphone through Office Web Apps when you're on the road--and you will lose none of the formatting or characteristics that you created using the desktop version of Word. For mobile workers trying to access docs through, for example, Google Apps, loss of formatting has been a persistent problem. That's no longer an issue with Office Web Apps.

Office document viewers
Finally, if you just need to view (as opposed to edit) an Office 2010 document, spreadsheet or presentation from the road, Microsoft is building a new set of Office 2010 document viewers. There are two key features here that will excite the road warrior. First, when you log on to your office file server and open an Office 2010 doc using one of these document viewers, you're not actually downloading the entire document or presentation to your smartphone. The server will instead render the Office document as a web page and present the contents of the document that way. Instead of downloading a multimegabyte file and opening it on your device, the document viewer will pull down the equivalent of a web page for every page or slide you want to see, and that happens very quickly--far faster than if you were downloading complex slides.

The second exciting thing is this: Microsoft is building the document viewers to run on virtually all of the major smartphone systems--so you can use Office 2010 document viewers on an older Windows Mobile phone, a BlackBerry, an iPhone and more.

So, any way you look at it, you're going to be in good shape when it comes to working with Microsoft Office in your mobile office. You'll have greater access to your documents and co-workers and an easier time working with them, wherever you are.

Mark A.R. Mitchell is an avid technology buff and reporter covering small-business products and the Consumer Electronics Show. He holds a master's degree in English literature from Harvard and has worked with leading technology companies and research universities.

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