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Office 2010 (beta version) makes printing easier for users – but seemingly a little slower to start printing

Issue #0936/2 – Office 2010 will bring a new-look print dialog to our computers. It is a cleaner, more modern look that gives very easy access to important features at the top level ‘Print’ dialog. We’ve had a chance to try out Office 2010 in its beta release and see how the changes affect the printing experience.

On the surface, Office 2010 looks very much like Office 2007 except that Publisher has now caught up with the look and feel of Word and Excel, which it had not done previously. The other main visual and operational difference is that the ‘Office button’ has been re-designated as a ‘File’ menu.

Once we dive a fraction deeper though, focussing on the Print function rather than general usage, we find some interesting and useful differences.

There are two ways to access Print. One is through a Quick Access icon that can be added to the Quick Access Toolbar at the top of the window (as in Office 2007) while the other, more versatile, method is through the File menu – as found in versions of Office prior to the 2007 iteration.

Word 2010 (beta) ‘Quick Access’ toolbarWord 2010 (beta) ‘Quick Access’ toolbar

Printing through the Quick Access Toolbar is just like printing from the toolbar in Office 2003 and previous versions, it takes the application straight through the printing process, using default settings without reference to the driver dialog window. This is fine when the user just wants to print and knows that the default settings are right for the print job.

Where the full print dialog in Office 2010 comes into its own is in allowing users to make the most important changes to the print settings very quickly and easily, eliminating a lot of the fiddly searching that can often be required when trying to find a specific setting in the proprietary driver dialog.

This is accessed through the ‘File\Print’ menu option, as it was with Office 2003 and previous versions, rather than through Office 2007’s ‘Office button’. Although I personally quite liked the office button – just because it is big and obvious and easy to hit quickly – the file menu tab of the toolbar is absolutely fine, intuitive and very functional.

In fact, the menu tab is a very helpful portal into the document. When the tab is selected, it defaults to the ‘Info’ item, which presents all of the document properties at a glance; including number of pages and words, dates and author, etc. (depending on the Office application), together with a variety of options for such elements as permissions, sharing, design checker, etc. (again depending on the application).

Word 2010 (beta) Word 2010 (beta) ‘Info’ screen

Once the ‘Print’ item is selected from the menu, Office then presents another very helpful screen displaying a large print preview, with page selector so that any/every page in the document can be previewed. But, the great thing about this window is that it clearly displays the major elements from the print properties/setup portion of the printer driver.

Word 2010 (beta) ‘Print’ screenWord 2010 (beta) ‘Print’ screen
Excel 2010 (beta) ‘Print’ screenExcel 2010 (beta) ‘Print’ screen

This is so great because it allows the user to see instantly how the driver is set in a way that is much faster to absorb and much faster to make vital adjustments than with the previous, standard, way of displaying the driver dialog. It is not so much that this is a new feature as that it is a radically new way of displaying the information and making things easy and quick for the user.

Most importantly, it places the duplex/two-sided printing option right at the forefront of the printing process. This allows duplex printing from any printer, with auto-duplex unit, manual duplex driver function – or not! While Office has included a manual duplex option for many years, it has never before been quite such a visible and prominent feature of the driver dialog – thus making it much, much easier for users to decide to print in duplex, and to select the right option, than ever before.

Word 2010 (beta) ‘Duplex’ drop-downWord 2010 (beta) ‘Duplex’ drop-down

In addition, it allows users to select n-up printing from the front printer dialog without having to enter the properties of the driver. Sadly, what I don’t see is any reference to a booklet printing option despite the ability to print both 2-up and duplex, even on printers that do offer a booklet printing facility through the main driver – which is a shame.

In order to actually print the document, there is then a large ‘Print’ button at the top of the page, side by side with the number of copies selector – very easy to see and easy to access.

So, printing from Office 2010 is going to be easier for users, allowing them to make important adjustments to the printing characteristics quickly. There are, of course, ‘Printer Properties’ and ‘Page Setup’ links on the print page that lead to the traditional Properties or Page Setup dialogs.

Unfortunately, the large print preview referred to can be something of a disadvantage. If the document is large and complex, the time taken to construct the preview can be significant. Thankfully, the system seems to recognise this and presents a preview button on the print dialog thereafter (within the same session) instead of the preview itself.

Something of a surprise though (and not a good one), is that, while Office 2007 provided at least the same, and possibly fractionally better, performance than we had experienced from Office 2003, we find that Office 2010 is actually performing rather less well than Office 2007.

Running a few print speed tests, Word 2010 took just over 5% longer to print the test page (as seen in the dialog illustration above) than Office 2007. Similarly, Excel 2010 took nearly 12% longer to print the fairly complex test page (as seen in the dialog illustration above) than Excel 2007. The additional time taken is in the preparation of the document for printing – clearly Office 2010 is having to do some extra work that Office 2007 did not have to do, something that we have already seen in the presentation of the print preview when the ‘Print’ item is selected.

Print Speed

Office 2010 (beta) vs Office 2007

Really on the downside though, it is possible that there may be compatibility/installation issues with Office 2010 running under Windows Vista – but, it has not been possible to tie these down definitively and so may prove to be irrelevant (but there are definite installation issues to having both versions installed at the same time!). However, after installing Office 2010 beta on a Vista machine, the print driver just hung and would not complete the spooling process. The only way to exit the crash was to activate the Windows task manager. In the event, the only way to achieve a print from this machine was to save the document as a PDF and then print the PDF, leaving Office 2010 out of the loop altogether.

This aside, the printing experience from Office 2010 should be a considerable improvement and, certainly, the ability to adjust driver settings between single-sided and duplex printing, and between one-page and n-up printing, so easily from the main print dialog is a brilliant feature and greatly welcomed.

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