If you've been reading my reviews, you may have noticed that I am a big fan of the printed software manual and not at all enthusiastic about help files and manuals in.pdf format. And I've mentioned that Microsoft's manuals used to be among the best. Microsoft's printed manuals are no more, but they've joined with O'Reilly Media to fill the gap with books, and their Plain & Simple series is a worthy successor to those fine manuals of the past.
I've been using Microsoft Word since version 3.0 for DOS, so I've seen quite a few major improvements over the years. As Word expanded and was incorporated into Office with Excel, Powerpoint and other programs, more and more features were added, and reading the instructions for using those features became more and more necessary. Office 2010 is the most feature-rich version yet, and a book that can make it "Plain & Simple" is well worth a look. I am happy to report that Microsoft Office 2010 Plain & Simple is exactly what its title says it is. Now, having said that, I need to make clear that the aim of the Plain & Simple series of books is not to go into deep technological detail and explain why everything works. The books' purpose is to help people feel confident about using the software and to get their work done as efficiently as possible. Once the user feels at ease with the software, it's likely he or she will have questions about why things work the way they do. For those kinds of answers, there are other books that go into more detail. (That's the way many Microsoft manuals were laid out—there would be one fairly short book that got you started, and another big fat book that gave you all the technological detail you could possibly want.)
The book promises "No computer speak" and a straightforward approach, with no explanation taking up more than two pages. It definitely delivers on that promise. Everything is clear and well illustrated with screenshots, and the pages are colorful and nicely laid out for reading. There are Tips to help make some of the things you do easier, and See Also links to information on other pages. The author has selected some of the tasks you're most likely to do with each of Office's components and gives clear, step-by-step illustrated instructions for each.
Laying the foundation
By now, many people have worked with Microsoft products enough to be very familiar with the basics—cut, copy, paste, open, save and so forth—but Office includes a lot more than that, and much of what it does is laid out on the Ribbon at the top of the screen. The Ribbon can look intimidating to people encountering it for the first time (I know this from experience even though I've been using Word since version 3.0 for DOS!) Microsoft Office 2010 Plain & Simple gets down to business with a clearly illustrated and explained section on the Ribbon, which should take away the mysteries and show how useful it can be. The same can be said of the sections dealing with Galleries, Lists, and the Backstage View, all of which appear in each of the separate programs that make up Microsoft Office 2010.
Getting right to work in Office 2010
I must admit I was puzzled to see a chapter titled "Common Tasks in Office" that dealt not with text or calculations but with embellished fonts, illustrations and photos. It's meant to demonstrate the tools that are common to all Office applications, but wouldn't it have been more logical to do the illustrations with a word processing document rather than with clip art? One look at the table of contents would demonstrate that Word gets more attention than the other elements of Office 2010. After that diversion, though, the book gets right down to business.
There are three versions of Office 2010 (Professional Plus 2010, Professional 2010, and Home and Business 2010) with different components, and Microsoft Office 2010 Plain & Simple goes into detail about most of them. Word has three sections; Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook each have two sections; Publisher, Access and OneNote have one section each. The specialized tools InfoPath, SharePoint, and Communicator, found in the Professional Plus version, get brief descriptions included in other chapters. Each Office 2010 component program's explanation begins with the basics and then moves along, step by step, to the more complex tasks. By the time you've seen the basics thoroughly explained, you've definitely gotten the confidence to move on. The book doesn't spend a lot of time going through things most Windows users already know about, which means there's more space to concentrate on teaching the reader how to get the most out of the software. As with other books in this series, Microsoft Office 2010 Plain & Simple can be read in any order, and it can be used as a reference book for anyone who wants to know how something works. However, since each section builds on the information in previous sections, I'd recommend reading the entire chapter devoted to the program you're learning, beginning to end.
Making Office 2010 uniquely yours... and keeping it that way
Since not everyone works the same way, and since the Office' working environment can be custom-tailored to each user in so many ways, the section on Customizing and Securing Office is bound to get heavy use. Just deciding what you do and don't want on the Ribbon could easily occupy a lot of time, without this clearly illustrated guide close at hand. Likewise, the sections dealing with protecting, recovering, and digitally signing files are an essential reference tool. Working with Office is definitely not a simple matter of installing the program and going right to work—a clear understanding of things like AutoSave and AutoRecover could save a lot of anguish over possibly lost or deleted work. That alone would be worth the cost of the book.
Microsoft Office 2010 Plain & Simple is a clearly written, clearly illustrated, step by step guide to everything nearly everyone will need to know to be successful with Microsoft Office 2010. Microsoft Office has grown over the years and has become much more sophisticated software, offering features for both the beginner and the advanced user. With books like this, beginners will be confident to keep trying new things, and more advanced users may well find ways to make tasks they've already mastered easier to do.