When it comes to upgrading to Office 2010, the latest version of Microsoft's productivity suite, the main concern for businesses comes down to what the new software can do for a user right out of the box. And it will take more than a new paint job and a tune-up to get budget-conscious buyers to take the bait.

Only real improvements that enhance productivity and simplify support will prompt users and their IT administrators to take notice and give Office 2010 a home in their enterprises.

Lucky for Microsoft, those enticing enhancements are present throughout the Office 2010 suite.

Let's take a closer look at the features and improvements that will matter most to business users and perhaps set the upgrade wheels in motion.

The features are listed in no particular order of importance. I would count PowerPoint Broadcast and the new video and image editing features among the most impressive, while Sparklines and PowerPivot for Excel are also big productivity boosters.

Most users will notice the new Ribbon and Backstage Views, and Outlook's Conversation Views get my vote as most improved. The security enhancements may be the most welcome new features of all.

Customisable Ribbon

The Ribbon menu met with much derision when it debuted in Microsoft Office 2007.

Many users complained that the Ribbon was hard to work with, made it difficult to find common operations, and could not be customised to meet their needs.

With Office 2010, all of that has changed. Both users and administrators now have the ability to modify the Ribbon to their liking.

Each element of the Ribbon can be tweaked, features and tools can be regrouped, and new tabs can be customised or created.

Customisable Ribbons should be a productivity boon to most users, who will now be able to bring the most highly trafficked and desired features to the foreground for easy access.

What's more, customised Ribbons can be saved to a file and incorporated into other copies of Office 2010.

Administrators also now have the ability to create and distribute custom Ribbons to users across the network, giving companies the means of either tailoring Ribbons for specific departments or 'normalizing' the Office 2010 interface across the enterprise.

Administrators can use group policy tools to prevent end-users from changing custom-deployed Ribbons as well, which should help reduce the number of help desk calls and simplify user training.

Ribbons now support contextual tabs, which adapt to the process being performed.

For example, if you select an image in Word, a contextual tab will appear, allowing you to edit or format the image.

No one should upgrade to Office 2010 for the customisable Ribbon alone, but the enhancements will go a long way toward easing the transition from Office 2003 (which had no Ribbons) to Office 2010, while offering a tangible improvement over previous versions of Office.

NEXT PAGE: Backstage view and Built-in graphics toolset

  1. Enhance your productivity in Microsoft Office 2010
  2. Backstage view and Built-in graphics toolset
  3. Enhanced security, Excel Sparklines and PowerPivot for Excel
  4. PowerPoint Broadcast and PowerPoint compression
  5. Paste Preview and Outlook Conversation View