Office 2010 Technical Preview - why bother?

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Why the early Office beta isn’t worth getting.

Inevitably, the Office 2010 Technical Preview made it’s way onto the Internet – you can download it from many sites – but why bother?

Office Watch tries out early versions of Microsoft Office. We’ve done that for over a decade because it’s our job and our readers expect us to tell them the good and bad in upcoming incarnations of Office.

Just because we have to run software that hasn’t been released to the public, that doesn’t mean you should.

Microsoft is asking people not to install the current Office 2010 beta and is doing so using the tired old line that unofficial downloads might be infected with viruses. That might be true. The problem is that we’ve heard that same scare story from Microsoft so many times, over so many years. If Microsoft is worried about virus infection of their wares – they should look to reports of virus infection on new Windows XP netbooks.

Our reasons for recommending against installing the Office 2010 Technical Preview:

Technical Preview only lasts until July

In about two months there will be a more public beta release of Office 2010. It should be ‘feature complete’, more stable and a better gauge of how Office 2010 will work.

It’s not stable

Beta software always has problems – that’s inevitable with any software let alone something as complex as Microsoft Office. At worst software can crash or documents can be unreadable.

By all independent reports, the Office 2010 Technical Preview isn’t too bad but even so any beta software should be treated warily.

Feedback doesn’t help

There are mechanisms to send feedback to Microsoft from beta software, but don’t be under any delusions about how that feedback is handled. Beyond the usual platitudes, there’s almost no chance that individual suggestions or even complaints will make a difference to Office 2010.

At this stage in the development process, changes in features are rare, especially for the major apps like Word and Excel. Only major ‘issues’ are dealt with, and even then they have to be serious deal breakers. Most feedback is saved away and may be heeded for future development.

A good example of this is Outlook 2007. During a long beta process there was a lot of feedback about the performance of Outlook – all of which was ignored. It was only with Service Pack 2, two years after the public release of Office 2007, that those problems were addressed with debatable results.

An exception to this is OneNote – this nifty and, in our view, under-appreciated program is made by a clever group of enthusiastic people. We’ve seen good suggestions during a beta process implemented within weeks. However that’s the exception to the Microsoft rule.

It’s not that big a deal

Microsoft has a problem trying to discourage people from trying the Technical Preview while not downplaying anything new or interesting in an upcoming incarnation of Office.

It’s harder and harder to excite people about a new MS Office version; gone are the days of major and really interesting new features in Office. Office 2010 client software has ‘points of interest’ but nothing compelling so far.

The real interest will be in the web application versions of MS Office programs and they aren’t covered in the current Technical Preview.

Betas are a nuisance

Trying beta software might sound cool and exciting (in a geeky way) but it can be a pain.

Putting beta software on your main computer is asking for trouble – you need to run it on a non-vital computer, either virtual or physical.

Often there is no upgrade process from test software. You have to uninstall the software entirely, sometimes follow extra instructions then install a fresh beta release or released product.

There’s usually no clear and wholly reliable uninstall process – at worst you have to reinstall Windows from scratch to make sure all traces of the test software and settings has been removed.

Beta / Technical Preview software has no help or documentation – in using new or changed features you’re mostly on your own.

Better things to do with your time

All up we would hope that most people had better things to do with their time – walking, hug your kids, reading random WikiPedia pages, poking your eye with a fork – these and many other things are more interesting than running Microsoft beta software. Believe us – we have the grey hairs and blood pressure to prove it.

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