Software reviews

This is the first of a regular software roundup we will be publishing on our site. Here we review Microsoft Office 2010.


Microsoft Office 2010

According to Microsoft, the next iteration of its flagship productivity suite will focus on three things: making workflows more efficient; using Web applications to make your work available anywhere; and making collaboration with others much easier. The beta version of the software leaves a positive impression. It's clear that Microsoft is looking to tackle 'free software' competitors such as Google Docs and Adobe Buzzword.

Office has now become a must-have for any home - whether it is used for correspondence, personal finance, homework assignments or hobbies.

This version has a uniform feel through all the applications. The Ribbon, which was first introduced in Office 2007's versions of Word, continues to keep frequently used features handy at the top of your work space. But in Office 2010, you'll have access to the Ribbon across all of the applications in the suite, with contextual tabs and features to help you get the most out of each program.

Commonly used tasks, such as cut and paste, have also been improved. The new 'paste preview' option allows you to see what your work will look like before committing to a format.

A big change has been made to the email client, Outlook. Now, a 'quick steps' section of the ribbon allows you to set up team meetings, move conversation threads to different folders, or automatically forward messages with pre-defined subjects to recipients of your choosing. You can turn long email threads into conversations, so you can quickly find information from specific participants without having to trawl through a long list of diverging conversation threads. This enables you to ignore entire threads including future emails on a subject to eliminate distractions while you work.

A significant refreshing of PowerPoint had been long overdue. Now users can edit video within the presentation document - such as trimming, fades, screen wipes and captioning. You can even create video triggers to launch animations during your presentation.

Cloud-based functionality is an important aspect of Microsoft Office. Therefore, free browser-based versions of all the applications which will be supported by advertising will also be available. Not only will it work in Internet Explorer, but these also render properly in other browsers such as Apple's Safari and Firefox. Clearly, Microsoft wants to expose Office to as many consumers as possible in order to head off competition from the likes of Google.

One of the most significant improvements to Office 2010 is the new 'backstage' view, which replaces the file menu. Just click the Office 2010 logo and you are given options to share, print, set permissions to your Office documents before you distribute it. The usual 'file' options are here, but you also get a choice of template layouts for new documents, options on how to share your document with various print and layout settings in a much easier-to-navigate menu. Here Microsoft has sought to innovate and break one of the drawbacks of Office productivity software engineering; what's more it works well and Microsoft has avoided the pitfall of just designing a bigger and better mousetrap.

Microsoft Office 2010 will be released later in the year and it appears Microsoft has made extensive usability improvements across the entire Office suite. Microsoft is making the software available widely through a public beta programme.


Twidroid Pro for Android

This is by far the best application for accessing Twitter via the Android platform because of the excellent integration with other apps. You can easily share items from different apps directly to your Twitter account, and can set up different notification alerts so you know when there are new Tweets for you to read. Importantly, you can tweak the frequency to save on the amount of battery power the app leeches. For photosharing, it integrates easily with Phodroid or Twitpic for uploading and geotagging. Version 3.1 includes a ‘save for later’ option, a small widget currently in dark skin, voice alerts plug-in, option to shorten links by default regardless of length, retweet and retweet with comments options in tweet menu, as well as option to invert text colour for notifications in pulldown on dark screens, and the inevitable fixes of several minor issues.

Price: $4.99

Shazam for Blackberry

This popular music recognition service on the iPhone is also available on the BlackBerry and this is a very slick version. Like on the iPhone, when you launch the application on your BlackBerry, you will be able to hold it up to a speaker to have it identify what song is currently playing through the stereo or your TV.

Once it has identified the song, you can choose to purchase it from Amazon, or send the song to friends via SMS or BlackBerry’s own PIN. Sadly, unlike the iPhone app this version isn’t free, so we don’t think it will be anywhere near as popular, but you can try before you buy as you will get 60 days to try the full version. Otherwise, it will cost a fiver in the UK.

Price £4.99

Pianist for iPhone

This app will allow you to turn your iPhone into an 88-key piano and allow you to start playing and composing music on the go. The graphics are excellent and the keys depress as you touch them. Although you can only display one or two octaves at any one time, you can jump to any part of the keyboard instantly. You can record your tunes, overdub it several times, and play it back. Shame it doesn’t come with a built-in teaching tool.

Another negative is, although you can record, you are not able to transfer the recorded song as a recognisable file to be played by any other program. Pianist is a stylish, but simple app. The quality of the sampled piano, ease of use and reasonable price makes this a reasonable app, but to engage its customers, it really could do with more functionality.

Price: £2.99

TomTom for iPhone

Although the TomTom iPhone app has been around for a while, it is still the best selling satnav app for the iPhone. Therefore, we decided to give it a fresh test. Where TomTom differs is with IQ Routes, which stores the time that other drivers took to drive the same bit of road at the same time of the day, resulting in accurate ETAs. It also includes speed camera information which you can turn on or off. Sound works fine through the speakers. But because of the single-task nature of the iPhone, you will have to turn off the satnav if taking a call. Music, however, can continue to play in the background. It pauses any track when transmitting a voice command. Walking and bike routes are also included, but traffic information is not available – which is the main flaw in what is otherwise a top notch app that is yours if you can afford it.

Price: £60

Jamie Oliver’s 20-minute recipes

The celebrity TV chef has lent his name (and a few recipes) to this self-contained app-cum-cookbook that sets the bar high. It features 50 recipes with an integrated shopping list sorted by grocery store aisle, step-by-step photos, and over 90 minutes of video clips with the chef teaching basic kitchen skills. It has metric and US measurements, and allows the user to adjust portion sizes based on the amount of guests. Shake it and you will get a random recipe. There is nothing that will really blow you away on this app, but it is put together well. By far the best cookbook app we have come across. What’s missing, though, is the ability to add and purchase new recipes – but no doubt this will come shortly. Is this the future of online recipe publishing?

Price: £4.99

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