Love it or hate it, Microsoft Office is the king of the mountain when it comes to desktop spreadsheet and database software, and you’ll soon be able to have a close up look.

Love it or hate it, Microsoft Office is the king of the mountain when it comes to desktop spreadsheet and database software, and you’ll soon be able to have a close up look. Microsoft has now gone live with a download page for the public beta, although as I write this it still says come back soon but keep checking and you should be able to download the beta.

Unlike when Microsoft unleashed Office 2007, there won’t be any huge reshaping of the user experience. The ribbon interface that debuted in that version is back with only a few small tweaks. One promising improvement is the ability to customize the ribbon. which is really just fixing a design glitch in the earlier version, omitting the ability earlier versions had to customize toolbars. Now you will be able to add and remove features from the ribbons, even create a customized ribbon.

There will also be some new data analysis features, including the ability to create quick charts in a single cell, something the Redmond folks are calling “Sparklines.” I could see the advantage of that for quick reference on deadline. It’ll be interesting to see up close.

Perhaps the most widely anticipated feature will be the new online Office suite, with core applications available as web-based applications. The web versions won’t cost anything and are supposed to integrate smoothly with the paid version to allow sharing of spreadsheets and the like.

Of course, in making a free web-based version available Microsoft is firing a shot across the bow of arch rival Google, which has been quietly improving its online apps, to the point where the speadsheet is quite suitable for doing quick data anlaysis on deadline. It will be interesting to play with the Microsoft version to see how it performs both against the Google apps, and the regular desktop version of Office.

I’ll write some more about Office 2010 once I’ve had a look at the public beta.

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