First Take: Microsoft Office 2010 beta

The Microsoft Office 2010 beta was released Wednesday, and though there aren't many major changes from the Technical Preview from July, there are some new features and enhancements worthy of note. This post will focus on the changes to the beta, but if you want a larger overview of new features across all the applications, check out our rundown of the Microsoft Office 2010 Technical Preview.

Outlook is the cornerstone of many companies' communications and daily schedules, and as such received a lot of enhancements in Office 2010. In the beta version, Microsoft has added even more ways to connect with coworkers and contacts. The new Outlook Social Connector is an added information pane that gives you more info about everyday contacts. Once set up, you'll be able to view pictures of contacts (even in large cc lists), previous conversations, attachments shared, meetings attended, and much more. Though not complete in the beta, Microsoft says the Outlook Social Connector will soon be able to connect with social Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, so you can follow status updates and more all in one location.

The Office 2010 Technical Preview introduced the Back Stage view, an enhanced File menu (accessed from the Office Icon tab) that lets you manage your documents, set permissions, and share your projects with colleagues. In the beta version Microsoft has decided to return to calling it the File menu, but with all the functionality and flexibility of Back Stage. They also have made it possible to access all the other tabs in the Ribbon, which were previously inaccessible in the Technical Preview, so you can get to the information you want quickly without the added step of exiting Back Stage.… Read more

Excel scheduling companion

Project Manager for Excel is a scheduling tool that opens directly into Microsoft Excel. It's designed to help with project management.

We like that this application is compatible with a commonly used program like Excel, but its interface is too minimal. We created a few sample project listings with Project Manager, but we couldn't figure out how to create subcategories within the project listings. There's no Help file. We visited the program's Web site and found minimal information that didn't answer our questions. We couldn't edit individual cells of data in the initial spreadsheet. … Read more

Schedule helper

Scheduler for Excel is an adequate program designed for school scheduling. Though the developers claim that Scheduler for Excel can be used for any type of schedule, it really isn't set up for anything other than classroom teachers and administrators.

The program opens with a lengthy instructional file that was difficult to use. We wish the instructions were in a more user-friendly format for quick reference, such as an FAQ file or step-by-step guide with screenshots. The program's toolbar features a series of colorful smiley faces, each one corresponding to a particular school subject. This toolbar would be … Read more

Microsoft testing Excel for supercomputers

At a key supercomputing conference on Monday, Microsoft released a test version of its Excel spreadsheet redesigned to run on powerful clusters of servers.

By engineering Excel to run better on such clusters Microsoft said that customers are seeing spreadsheets that normally would take weeks to calculate now run in a few hours.

The software maker also released a beta version of Windows HPC Server 2008 R2--the latest version of Windows Server designed to run in high-performance compute clusters. The announcements were made at the SC09 conference in Portland, Ore.

Microsoft has taken the standard version of Excel 2010 and … Read more

Intuitive calendar maker

XLCalendar is a simple program that allows users to create custom calendars in Excel. Combining intuitive operation with professional results, this program is a great way to make calendars quickly and easily.

The program's interface is basic, just a gray box with a few buttons and drop-down menus. Users select the calendar template that they want to use and then modify it as needed. Users can select whether they want to abbreviate the names of the months and days, for example, or change the cell in which a particular characteristic is displayed. There are multiple templates, allowing users to … Read more

Study: Radio still has broadest reach

In 2008, the Council for Research Excellence, a research group funded primarily by Nielsen and staffed by researchers from various media and advertising organizations, studied the media consumption habits of U.S. adults. Researchers followed about 300 people around for two days, in the spring and the fall, using a handheld device to track every single 10-second interval of media that they consumed. The study was mainly focused on video, with the unsurprising result that we watch a lot of TV (more than five hours a day on average).

On Tuesday, the group released a follow-up analysis focused exclusively on … Read more

Plug-in for Useful File Utilities

Batch Replacer for MS Excel is a plug-in for the Useful File Utilities program that allows users to complete find-and-replace tasks in multiple documents at once. The plug-in works but is not particularly easy to use.

We previously reviewed Useful File Utilities on its own and came to the conclusion that it was a mediocre file management tool, more complicated than it really needed to be and without any notable features. Batch Replacer for MS Excel adds an extra bit of functionality, but fits in with the general feel of the program, which is that it's not very easy … Read more

Feature-filled chart maker

OrgChart Professional is a feature-packed program that allows users to create impressive organizational charts. Because of the number of features it contains, it's not the most intuitive program we've used, but a bit of time spent with the Help file will allow users to master the program's many functions.

The interface is a bit cluttered and can be overwhelming at first, with lots of menus and buttons everywhere. Although it's possible to create an organizational chart just by fooling around with the program, beginners should really start with the Help file, a 282-page PDF that contains … Read more

Excel Management tool

Explorer for Microsoft Excel allows you to keep several spreadsheets active and available while you're working. With its simple premise and even simpler execution, this a handy tool for frequent Excel users.

Explorer for Microsoft Excel's interface was a breeze for us to pick up, as it perfectly coordinates with Excel's layout and style. It's simply a window within Excel that lets you open several workbooks and organize them within a file tree. We needed to do some light reading in the Help file's instructions to use the hyperlink feature, but we found the program … Read more

Additional Excel tool

Excellerator provides users with fast access to customize their spreadsheets. By making a shortcut to some needed commands, this will improve any Excel experience.

We were pleased to discover the program's simple interface, beginning with the discreet way it embeds icons below Excel's original commands. The program is basically one simple menu to navigate through with large command buttons, drop-down menus, and radio buttons. The various choices instantly hit home for us, because it was a solution to those long searches through Excel to find a specific command or equation we knew existed, but didn't know where. … Read more