The more Microsoft improves their software, the more features each program has. The added features may mean the software is easier to use, or it may mean that there are just that many more things to click on and get confused by. Or both those statements can be equally true. Especially when one’s talking about Microsoft Office 2010. Because of its features and complexity, there are a lot of books that claim to explain Office 2010, and Microsoft Office 2010 for Dummies is among them. It shares the lighthearted tone and clear explanations found in all the For Dummies books, but is it the one you should buy to help you find your way around Office 2010?
NOTE: There is a version of this book that comes with a DVD. I’m reviewing just the book and have no information on the DVD.
Microsoft Office 2010 for Dummies covers Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access, the most commonly used components of Office. Like most self-help computer books, it can be read in any order, or used just for reference if you like. The index and table of contents are reasonably extensive, so finding help with the topics one is interested in is fairly easy. The author, Wallace Wang, has written several other books in the For Dummies series, and he’s got a good grasp of the common format and a very readable writing style. He presents this book as being aimed toward just about every newcomer to Microsoft Office 2010—people who’ve used Microsoft Office 2007, people who’ve used older versions of Office, and people who have little or no experience with Office of any kind. That’s a pretty ambitious goal for any book, and I was interested to see if he could deliver.
It was soon apparent that the book is mostly aimed toward the absolute newcomer to Microsoft Office. People who are already familiar with Office 2007 can skip most of the first section, Getting to Know Microsoft Office 2010, without missing anything. That section includes well-illustrated instructions for things like selecting text, copying, pasting, and using the clipboard. Even people who haven’t used Microsoft Office are likely to be familiar with those things already, just from using Windows in general, but the material is a good overview for people who might need a reminder. There is a chapter that talks about the features that were first introduced in Microsoft Office 2007, so those who have only used earlier versions of Office should take a look at that, since those features also appear in Office 2010. There’s a good introduction to Backstage View, the Ribbon and the Quick Access Toolbar. There’s a chapter that deals with customizing the interface that should be helpful for just about everyone. I am all in favor of doing whatever it takes to make software easier to use, and changing the interface to something that makes more sense than what came from the box is always a good step in that direction.
On to the apps
The sections on Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access are laid out in the same general form. First there is an introduction to the application, then some illustrated lessons on the basic things one would do with that application (a document, a spreadsheet, a presentation, email, and a database), and then there are chapters that describe slightly more advanced techniques.
Again, the focus is on the absolute beginner. The section on Word, for example, spends its first 30 pages covering things like moving the cursor, using a mouse, checking spelling and grammar (since those things are turned on by default in Office 2010, that mostly means explaining how to deal with the red and green squiggly lines) and dealing with fonts and line spacing. The section on Excel explains what a spreadsheet is, what cells, columns and rows are, and how to search and navigate. The section on PowerPoint explains what makes a good presentation (as opposed to an overwhelmingly flashy one) and gives an overview of entering and formatting text on slides. The section on Outlook, however, immediately falls flat on its face by merely mentioning essential email account settings without explaining what they are or where the reader is expected to find the information. Would a beginner know about POP, IMAP, incoming and outgoing mail servers? Those things can be confusing enough to the more advanced user, and there’s no explanation of any kind. As they say online: Fail! The section on Access could have been greatly improved for the beginner by walking the reader through the creation of a sample database. While such things as fields, records, and forms are explained, the choices available are confusing enough that the addition of a real-world example would have really helped the newcomer understand how it works.
Beyond the basics
The space devoted to more advanced work in each application is not nearly as extensive as that devoted to beginner-level work. Unfortunately, this means that readers who want to learn more than the basics may not find much help here. And since this is an all-in-one book, the space available for each of Office’s components is limited, which further limits the possibilities for advanced material. The explanations here are good, and there are illustrations that help to clarify the text, but all in all the book is limited to a short range of topics and fairly concise instructions. This may not matter at all if the reader is a newcomer and wants a book that will figuratively hold his or her hand during the learning process. The information in the book (with the exception of the sections on Outlook and Access) is definitely good enough to get a newcomer up and running on the applications most likely to appear in his or her Microsoft Office suite.
Pros and cons
Pro: Well written, clearly illustrated and with plenty of good basic information for beginners. Each Office component gets a reasonable overview and the two components that are not so well explained (Outlook and Access) are less likely to be tackled by the beginner without some kind of additional help.
Con: Office is really too big to be covered adequately in a book this size. The focus on beginner level material means there is not much space left for people who want to learn more. Too much of the beginner-level explanations is devoted to things that anyone who’s used Windows or older versions of Microsoft Office will very likely already know.
I’m always sorry when I have to say “Don’t bother” about a well-written book that’s part of a good series of books but, unfortunately, that’s my conclusion on Microsoft Office 2010 for Dummies. There are other books that are better, and Word, Excel, and Access, in particular, are complex enough that they really each need a standalone book to cover both the basics and the more advanced features. Also, the section on Outlook was pretty nearly useless because critical information was left out. If you’d like a good all-in-one book on Microsoft Office 2010, check out some of our other reviews, or ask your local librarian for recommendations.