When Excel (and the rest of the Office suite) went through a major makeover in 2007, a lot of users had a hard time getting to grips with the completely new interface. If you're au fait with Excel 2007, then the transition to 2010 should be a lot easier. If you haven't, or if you're just curious, then here's a guide to what to expect from the newer breed of spreadsheet.

Most users who survived the large differences between pre and post-2007 Excel will be familiar with the 'ribbon' format of the taskbar. A useful feature that has been introduced for 2010 is that you can manipulate it, adding or taking away tabs as you please. Such a feature will be useful to those folk who do a complex job with repetitive elements, like accounting spreadsheets.

A significant feature will be "Sparklines", new charts for data that are in cells. Before being put off by having to learn what appears to be a whole new system, most people will already surprise themselves by already being familiar with the type of graph they produce. A Sparkline is typically a large but compact amount of data, presented simply (e.g. a line graph). Anyone who is familiar with how the stock market share prices look on a graph throughout the day is looking at something very similar to a Sparkline. If you're still worried about getting to grips with this new way of presenting chart data, then there's already an add-on (albeit an unofficial one) for Office 2003/2007 users, so have a play around before it makes its debut!

Advanced to intermediate Excel users will already be well-versed in the usefulness of pivot tables. A new feature called the "slicer" in Excel 2010 will provide a more graphical approach to filtering what you want your pivot table to show. Instead of a drop-down list, you have a picture-based interface to work with and can clearly see what data is being dragged around and manipulated. This should, theoretically, make it easier for basic users and make learning how a pivot table works a lot easier.

There are a couple of other minor tweaks - autosave (and auto protect) has been souped up a bit, so you're less likely to lose data if your PC crashes or reboots. For those of us who hate the Automatic Update tendency to shut your PC down (whether you want it to or not), this can only be good news. Screengrabs are easier and more intuitive than they were before, too. In a reflection of today's increased security conscious society, the protection of documents (and access/editing rights of them) has more options than ever before (mostly keeping certain people from accidentally editing them, which is a database nightmare some of us will be familiar with).

More changes will come to light when the software finally gets the retail go-ahead, but these are the major changes to look out for. Naturally we'll never know what bugs and creases need ironing out when Excel 2010 becomes the mainstream spreadsheet program for Office, but its worth giving yourself a head start by mastering 2007 first, then climbing up towards the launch of 2010. Happy spread-sheeting!