REDMOND, Wash. (TheStreet) -- Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report last week did the unthinkable and offered a free, beta version of its upcoming Microsoft Office 2010.



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overshadowed Microsoft's rollout by offering an early demonstration of its free operating system, Chrome, which will support the Google Apps line of business tools. Office '10, which features new social collaboration tools and other Web doodads, got painted as too little, too late. And while it's true that Microsoft Word and Outlook were incremental releases tied to Office 2007, and Web collaboration is Google Apps game to lose, lets get real: Data software like Excel and Access are still state of the small-business art.

I spent about a month with a beta version of the new Microsoft Office, and got a hands-on demo from a Microsoft product manager.

What you get:

Office 2010 is a ridiculously feature-rich tool for analyzing, reporting and publishing. Microsoft knows its edge lies in Excel, Access and PowerPoint, which trump Google's feeble spreadsheet and presentation tools. So all three got serious upgrades. Regulatory compliance and document security are not the mere concepts they are in Google Apps: Files in Office 2010 can now be shared in encrypted files in Microsofts SharePoint Workspace.

Office 2010 also sports true 64-bit processing for Excel. And the once-impenetrable database and presentation tools, Access and PowerPoint, should save tons on reports and marketing material. In all, Office 2010 offers control and flexibility.

What you dont get:

You won't find anything close to Google's level of collaboration or ease of use.

For all of Microsoft's progress in Office, this is still Microsoft. Expect to struggle with numbingly complex features, presented in the now omnipresent "ribbon," most of which you will never, ever use.

Office still can't integrate with other products. For example, Outlook can't reliably set up an e-mail account on alien mail servers. And real-time collaboration on documents remains a no-go. Data is stuck on your machine.

Bottom line:

Ignore Office 2010 at your peril. Microsoft is bringing its a A game here. It may be an old-school offense, but it is formidable all the same.

Small businesses, especially those that crunch numbers and data, should give Office 2010 a try. Better yet, they should run both Office and Google Apps to get the best of both worlds.


Reported by Jonathan Blum in New York


Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.