In a snap, you can collapse them, rearrange them, jump to them, and so on. A Search box appears at the top, and the matches are highlighted in the relevant section heads so you know where they fall.
More special effects are available for jazzing up bits of text (shadows, reflections and so on), with less clumsiness than in the old Word Art module. It’s now easier to insert the typographical flourishes that come in certain fonts, like swashes and ligatures.
EXCEL Most of the changes here are for hard-core number-crunchers. You get better-named statistical functions, an equation editor, refined conditional formatting, much more flexibility with pivot tables, and so on.
One of the few new features for the masses is something called sparklines: tiny line graphs that appear right in individual cells of your spreadsheet. They’re often far clearer than 50 overlapping lines in a single chart.
OUTLOOK Outlook got the most attention this year; there’s good stuff here. Conversation View, better known as threading, clumps together all of the messages from a single discussion. Better yet, a Clean Up command removes all the duplicate quoting, giving you much less to wade through, and an Ignore button spares you any more mail on this topic.
Quick Steps are multistep, automated functions like “Send an out-of-office message to this person, forward it to my assistant, then delete the message, all at once.” Unlike traditional mail rules, you can apply one by clicking a button instead of having it applied universally.
In the lower-right corner, the Social Connector window shows the latest MySpace or LinkedIn updates from the sender of a selected message. (Facebook and Twitter are coming soon, says Microsoft.)
POWERPOINT You can now trim or create fades in videos on your slides. You can embed those videos right into your slide show file, too, rather than merely linking to an external video file on your hard drive. (Pro: No more showing up at the conference with a big empty box where the video file is supposed to be. Con: Enormous PowerPoint files.)
Your slide show can now have sections, several slides apiece, for ease of rearranging and repurposing. You can open more than one slide show at once. Best of all, you can broadcast a slide show over the Web — a fantastic feature that could save a lot of travel.
Your admiring spectators don’t need Office or even Windows; they just watch your slides flip by in their Web browsers (minus videos and slide transitions, alas). No more e-mailing PowerPoint files and worrying about missing fonts.
THE WEB APPS The biggest news is Office Web Apps: mini versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, complete with the Ribbon, on the Web.
If you do buy Office 2010, you’ll love the ease of editing, saving and sharing documents directly to and from the Web. (Microsoft gives you a free 25-gigabyte locker for these parked files — a great feature called SkyDrive. Or, if you’re a corporate drone, you use something called SharePoint instead.) In other words, there’s much less manual uploading or downloading of files, as in Google Docs.
If you and your colleagues have Word or PowerPoint 2010, you can open the same document simultaneously, and even edit it simultaneously. Each of you can be working on a different paragraph; hitting Save updates everyone’s copies, more or less instantly.
It’s complex, and a little confusing, and also still under construction. For example, to do this simultaneous editing in Word or PowerPoint, everyone has to own the desktop software; but you can do online simultaneous editing in Excel and OneNote right on the Web.
Clearly, Microsoft is taking aim at Google Docs and its imitators. An arms race for superiority and excellence will be the inevitable result — and that’s one more life cycle to look forward to.
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.