As a writer, I've found Microsoft Word to be my single indispensable tool. Aside from Outlook (which I use for its email and PIM functionality), Word is the application in which I spend the most time each day, so I'm pretty serious about getting the most of its features. Since the release of Office for Windows 95, which introduced us to the curly red lines representing spelling mistakes, Microsoft has offered small but important upgrades to Word in each revision of its Office suite. Because of the amount of time I spend with Word, I've always felt compelled to upgrade to the latest version and now, with Office XP and Word 2002, this need is more obvious than it's ever been.

Like the other Office XP applications, Word has been reengineered to expose functionality in a more seamless manner. This means that you won't need to hunt and peck through menus and open dialog boxes to get at specific functionality. For example, in Word 2000, you need to open a dialog box to display word count in a document; this can be done through the Tools / Word Count menu option (ALT+T then W for you touch typists). But Word 2002 includes a Word Count toolbar that obviates the need to open a dialog box: Simply click the "Recount" button, or type ALT+C when the toolbar is open, to get the current word count (Figure). For someone who needs this functionality (i.e. me), this type of improvement is a huge time saver, and it's only one of many in Word 2002. Let's take a look at those new and improved features that really set apart this release.

Styles and Formatting Task pane
For users that need to apply numerous formatting styles, Microsoft provides the Styles and Formatting Task pane (Figure), which will appear by default when "Styles and Formatting" is chosen from the Format menu. You can scroll around a document and see, at a glance, which formatting is applied to the currently selected text, and easily change that formatting, all without needing to open a dialog box (Figure). Unless I'm working on a book, I tend to stick with pretty basic text formats, but this feature represents an interesting counterpoint to the little-used and misunderstood Format Painter (which I use regularly in Word 2000), especially now that Word supports multiple-select. If you need to clear formatting from a block of selected text, you can now do so in one step, by choosing Clear Formatting from the Styles and Formatting Task pane (Figure). I don't know that there was a way to do this, per se, in Word 2000, other than cutting the text and then Special Pasting it as unformatted text.

Reveal Formatting Task pane
For more advanced formatting needs, Microsoft supplies the Reveal Formatting Task pane (Figure), which will display, at any point in the current document, the font, paragraph, spacing, image, table, and other properties. The Reveal Formatting Task pane also allows you to compare two text selections to see whether they contain identical formatting, and then apply the formatting of one selection to the other if desired. This option is enabled by choosing Reveal Formatting from the Format menu. If you'd like to compare two selections, highlight the first selection in the current document, check the "Compare to another selection" option, and then select the second location. This pane can also be used to show all formatting marks, which used to require a visit to the Options dialog box (Figure).

Multiple Selection
Finally, Word users are able to use a feature that's been in Excel since the old days: Multiple-selection (Figure). This allows you to select multiple areas of text in a document simultaneously, so that you can then apply styles and formatting all at once. This feature is typically enabled by selecting some text and then CTRL-selecting other blocks of text, which is similar to the way you'd select multiple icons in Windows Explorer. Another cool feature of multiple selection is that you can do searches within the area that are highlighted, excluding the unselected portions of the document. I'm only surprised it took so long to implement.

Markup for Tracked changes
One Word feature I use every day is Track Changes, and it's gotten much better in Word 2002: It allows you to keep track of changes that are made to a document by different users. In my case, Track Changes is essential because I submit articles to Windows 2000 Magazine that are then tech edited and returned to me for further edits (Figure). In Word 2000, Track Changes assigns a different color to each author's edits, so it's easy to see who did what. But Word 2002 uses a new Markup feature which emulates the way people used to hand-edit documents: Graphical "call outs" to changes are made in the right column (Print Layout only), so that the main text of the document doesn't get cluttered. This makes a heavily edited document much, much easier to read. And if you've been writing for a while, as I have, the nostalgia effect of seeing a digital version of hand-editing is not to be missed.

MDI option
When Microsoft introduced Office 2000, one of the more controversial features was that Word and Excel were changed from Multiple Document Interface (MDI) applications, where each document window was contained inside the parent application window, to Single Document Interface (SDI) applications, where each document occupied its own window. A side effect of an SDI application is that each document also gets its own button on the Windows taskbar, and you can easily switch between documents using the standard ALT+TAB key combination. However, some users found this new interface to be problematic, because multiple Word documents could quickly clutter the taskbar. In Word 2002, you can now optionally choose to use MDI mode again if you're so inclined. I never missed MDI, but I always thought that users should be given the choice. And now that choice is back.

Problems with Word 2002
Word 2002 isn't perfect, but most of its problems are small. Once again, Microsoft is trying to foist Word on us as the default email editor in Outlook, and I think this is a huge mistake: Word is a heavy duty, resource intensive program, and there's absolutely no reason for this beast to be sitting in memory all the time just so you can send email. And contrary to Microsoft's perception of the market, most people use plain text email and probably will for some time. I don't like to get email formatted with lots of font styles and images, and I'm sure most other people don't either. Why use Word when plain text will do just fine?

Word doesn't remember my Task pane settings, and that drives me nuts. I want the Task pane open all the time, including when I open Word for the first time in any given session. But even with the "Startup Task Pane" option selected, it just won't remember to do this. It's aggravating.

Word 2002 also doesn't remember the default view settings, another major annoyance. I want to use Word in Print Layout all the time, and with a new option to remove the white space between pages (which is wonderful), Print Layout looks better than it ever did. But this darned feature keeps resetting itself: I have to manually tell Word to remove the white space between pages on every single document.

Hopefully, these final two issues will be addressed in a Service Release. My first complaint can be fixed through a custom installation of Office XP, because you can specify the default format for email, which is nice. I've experienced no performance or stability issues with the final release of Word 2002, and have used it to write hundreds of pages of articles, reviews, and other documents.

On to Microsoft Outlook 2002...