Microsoft unveiled the latest version of its Office suite of desktop productivity software, including significant updates in familiar applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, as well as a new version of SharePoint.

The products became available to business customers on Wednesday. New features in Microsoft Excel 2010 include a feature called “sparklines” that lets users transform large amounts of data into small, at-a-glance displays that fit into a single cell. Sparklines let users take large sets of data and present them visually in small spaces, for example, showing 20 years of stock price data in one small graphic that will fit inline in a report, or even within a paragraph.

The new applications provide more Web-based features, including Microsoft Office Web Apps, online companions to Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. Web Apps use cloud computing technology to help preserve the look and feel of a document regardless of the device, so content and format are generally preserved while moving between a PC, phone and browser.

For smartphone users, Office Mobile 2010 can perform lightweight editing of Office documents and take notes on the go. Users can work with Office documents stored on their phone, attached to an e-mail, and can browse, edit, and update documents stored on a Microsoft SharePoint 2010 site.

Other new features include broadcast capabilities in PowerPoint, auto-previewing in Word, and easier document preparation through the new Microsoft Office Backstage view, which replaces the earlier File menu. Outlook now includes a Conversation view to help users more easily follow e-mail conversation threads.

New business intelligence capabilities are also available in many of the Office applications. In Excel 2010, new “slicers” provide visual controls for filtering data in an interactive way. They can connect to PivotTables, PivotCharts and CUBE functions to provide interactive dashboards.

PivotTables have also been enhanced with the ability to change values in PivotTable cells with a what-if analysis feature known as “writeback,” and create named sets. A new search filter is also available for both tables and PivotTables for navigating through large data sets.

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