Excel 2002 uses the same file format as Excel 2000 (and even Excel 97), ensuring cross-version compatibility. The few interface changes we did find are cosmetic, suitewide, and present in every Office XP application. For example, Excel now boasts integrated speech recognition and dictation, courtesy of Office XP's proprietary speech engine. However, since spreadsheets rely on accuracy, and speech technology is still notoriously inaccurate, this feature isn't too useful here.
Also, like other XP apps, Excel now sports a cool new Task Pane--a side-mounted tool panel. Unlike Word, however, Excel's Task Pane shows only suitewide tools such as the clipboard contents, the search tool, the new document pane, and the clip art organizer/insertion tool. The flashiest interface enhancement: you can now color-code the worksheet tabs at the bottom of the screen. Yawn. Although these changes aren't exciting, the overall feature set still beats Quattro Pro, which is just now adding features such as multilevel undo.
Excel puts Office XP's new Smart Tags--mini menus that pop up when you hover over a cell--to good (if limited) use. Our favorite implementation? If you're surfing the Web and hover your cursor over a stock symbol (such as CNET or MSFT), Excel recognizes the symbol and lets you insert the stock's price directly into a spreadsheet. Thereafter, each time you log on to the Web, Excel dynamically pulls the latest stock price into your spreadsheet. Excel's only other Smart Tag lets you export a name from an Excel spreadsheet to Outlook's address book.
Oddly enough, a couple of nifty tools in the beta version, including a Smart Tag that made it easy to do Web searches and an add-on that let you grab stock quotes and manipulate them in formulas, are AWOL in the final version. What's more, Windows 95 users can forget about using Excel 2002. Like all other Office XP applications, Excel doesn't play nice with that OS.