As the old saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. (OK, nowadays it's more likely to begin by starting the car, but you get the idea.) Complex things are made simple if you take them one step at a time. Microsoft Office Professional 2010 is the most full-featured version of Office that's offered to the general public today, and it may seem overwhelmingly complex at first. That's why a book like Microsoft Office Professional 2010 Step By Step can smooth the way to mastery. Let's see in this review if it manages to be a truly helpful guide or not.
Keeping it simple
Microsoft Office Professional 2010 Step By Step follows in the format of other books in the Step by Step series, moving from basic tasks to more complex ones, explaining everything along the way. Like other Step by Step books, this one doesn't go into every last detail of every last thing one can do with Office 2010, but concentrates on giving people confidence with the tasks they'll do most often.
In fact, since this is a comprehensive overview of all the components in Office 2010, and it had to fit into a book that didn't require bodybuilder muscles to pick up, the descriptions of each component are noticeably abbreviated. The authors provide a helpful list of the other Step by Step books that cover Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and Access in much greater detail. Each of those other books' chapter headings are listed as well, so you can decide whether a particular book would be worth reading. I thought this was a good idea. Like all software reference books, Microsoft Office Professional 2010 Step By Step can be read in any order that you feel is most helpful—either straight through from the beginning, or by going directly to the information you need. There's also a URL for practice files to be used along with the material in the book, and a detailed explanation of how to get help. The authors begin with an introduction to the things that are common to all Office programs. While the Ribbon has been around for a while, it's been updated again in Office 2010 so, even if you're an experienced user, it's a good idea to read the chapters called "Modifying the Display of the Ribbon" and "Working in the Program Environment." The Ribbon is one of those features that looks hopelessly complex at first, but which has been designed to make working in Office easier and more straightforward than the old menu system.
If you're coming to Office 2010 from Office 2003 (or an even earlier version) you will definitely want to read the chapter called "Work with Files," and go through the exercises with the practice files. Microsoft changed its file format starting with Office 2007, and there's a list of the new formats and an explanation about compatibility with earlier versions. If you need to share files with someone using an earlier version you will need to make your work compatible with theirs and work with their files in compatibility mode. I don't think the book's explanation of this was thorough enough, and it was placed in a sidebar box at the very end of a long description of the current file formats, so it would be very easy for the reader to skip over or miss.
Focus on practice
The whole book is set up as a series of exercises using the practice files to explain basic concepts. You don't necessarily have to do this, especially if you already have basic knowledge; the explanations are well illustrated in the book. If you do already know the basics, you can skip over a lot of each chapter, but the chapters can serve as an illustrated reference to the ways in which Office 2010 works. I found the constant "If you want to know more about this, skip to this section, or look in this other book" comments somewhat annoying. While I can see the logic behind it, it made the book seem more like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book than a software guide. The chapter on Excel is the most extensive, and it makes it easy to understand almost anything the average person would want to do with Excel. Here I would definitely recommend working with the practice files, because they're a great way to become familiar with the program. The other chapters focus more on the very basic ways to use the software, and the term "simple" appears often in the table of contents for each section.
Maybe too simple?
If you are a complete newcomer to Office or any of its components, keeping the exercises simple is the key to gaining confidence, but I think the section on OneNote is particularly skimpy, especially when it starts out by saying that skill with OneNote comes with regular use. There is not, as yet, a separate Microsoft OneNote 2010 Step by Step book that would explain this useful program in better detail, so the abbreviated instructions here may not be enough to help a new user gain confidence. The same goes for the section on Access. Databases can be very simple or very complex, and Microsoft Office Professional 2010 Step By Step quite rightly suggests that anyone needing more information on Access should read the Step by Step book devoted to it.
While Microsoft Office 2010 Professional Step By Step is just as well written and straightforward as the other books in the series, it tries to do too much in too small a space. The practice files are very useful and the exercises can definitely help the reader gain needed skills, but the instructions are definitely geared toward the newcomer rather than on helping people with basic knowledge learn more. If you'd like to see if the explanations are what you need, I'd recommend checking this book out of your local library. For the Office 2010 components where full Step by Step books have been published, I think you'd be much happier reading those instead. Let's hope Microsoft Press will release books for the 2010 versions of OneNote and Publisher before the next version of Microsoft Office is released.