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A first look at Microsoft Word 2002

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By George Campbell

(IDG) -- Word 2000 introduced numerous changes to the Office application, but many of the changes were more annoying than helpful.

Fortunately, the new Word that's part of Office XP corrects a lot of the lingering Word 2000 flaws and adds many new timesaving features.

What's hot

  • Task Panes speed formatting and other tasks.
  • Smart Tags control Word's automatic text changes.
  • Group edits are easier.

What's not

  • Task Panes reduce the size of the document window.

The new Word interface offers some handy additions. A new toolbar window shows a document's current word count, which can be updated with a single click. Word 2000's Single Document Interface feature, which opened a separate toolbar window for each open document, is now optional. As you type and format text, the toolbar buttons change color so that you can see at a glance if the formatting tool is toggled on or off. Even scrolling gets a boost: Activate the new Hide White Space option by hovering near the top or bottom edge of a page. Click, and useless empty space disappears, showing you more of your document.

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Feeling the pane

The new Task Panes are the biggest addition, and they work in particularly helpful ways in this application. By default, the vertical Task Panes sit on the right edge of the screen, taking up about one-sixth of the Word window, but they can be dragged to float anywhere on the desktop.

For many operations, these Task Panes eliminate the need for dialog boxes. One pane lets you choose styles for a document, including Word's brand-new styles for lists and tables that simplify making those features uniform across a document.

The Reveal Formatting pane lets you view and alter document formatting. It's not as flexible as WordPerfect's Reveal Codes feature, but it's a lot easier to understand and use. For example, the pane lets you see the current indentation settings for a paragraph or bulleted list. A single click sends you directly to a dialog box where you can change the setting. You can even compare the formatting of one part of a document with that of another section.

Another pane lets you translate text into another language, an exciting new feature in this version. You can translate single words within the program, or blocks of text using a Web-based translation service (though you'll pay extra to use that service). And the Mail Merge pane operates as a wizard, simplifying the complex process of creating a form letter.

If you use clip art, sound files, or video clips in your documents, you'll appreciate the handy Clip Art pane, through which you can search for files in your clip art libraries and then drag and drop the objects into your document. The Clipboard pane lets you access the expanded 24-item Office Clipboard.

In all Task Panes, a single click performs an action or takes you directly to dialog boxes, saving time and showing you all available options in one handy location.

Smart Tags and other improvements

Word 2002 also eliminates some frustrations common in earlier versions. Word's automatic formatting and corrections can still sometimes make changes that you never intended, such as creating a bulleted list. But Smart Tags make undoing those unwanted alterations easier.

One very useful Smart Tag pops into view when you paste an item from the Clipboard into a document; the tag lets you decide whether to use the format the item was originally styled in or to match the format of the surrounding text. The same options were available in Word 2000 with Edit, Paste Special, but the new system is quicker and easier. Other Smart Tags let you access Outlook calendars and address books when you type in a date or name.

Word 2002 also lets you select blocks of nonadjacent text for formatting or cutting and pasting. If you want to impress your boss with your new sales figures, for instance, you can hold down Ctrl and select scattered portions of your sales report; afterward you can copy them all to the Clipboard and then paste them into a letter to your CEO.

Need a background watermark? It's now a one-step job instead of a confusing multistep task. Speech recognition is also new in this version, letting users with high-end platforms give voice commands or dictate text.

Easy editing, better reliability

Workgroup members will find welcome new features, too. Multiple users can edit a document simultaneously, with all their changes presented for review when any editor closes the document. Revision markings for deletions and formatting no longer clutter the text but now appear in little boxes in the right margin. The new system makes following the edited version easier -- but it can also make seeing exactly what changes were made harder. (If you prefer the old method, it's still available.) A Revision pane below the document lets you review all changes in one place, arranged by the type of change.

Remote editors will love the new Send for Review feature, which automates sending and receiving multiple-editor documents by e-mail. And if you create HTML documents in Word, a new option lets you save the file as a filtered Web page, removing Word's internal XML tags and reducing document size by as much as 40 percent.

Every user has experienced crashes, which often lead to time-consuming rewrites. Now, when document or program problems arise, Word 2002 helps prevent a disaster. If Word crashes, you automatically get a chance to save the document. Even in hard-lockup situations, you can use the Office Application Recovery program to save your work. Finally, if a document becomes corrupted for any reason, Word can open it and repair it automatically, right from the Open dialog box.

Is the new Word worth its price? If you have a relatively modern machine that can handle this program, the answer is a definite yes. Word 2002 is what Word 2000 should have been, and more.








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