Power for more productivity
At first glance, you'll be hard-pressed to notice any changes in version 2002 (which also comes bundled in the upcoming Microsoft Office XP). Word's menu structure and toolbars haven't appreciably changed. You can still view documents in a WYSIWYG layout, and Word still automatically corrects misspellings and poor grammar. Fortunately, Microsoft didn't dare mess with file format; Word 2002 can open docs from Word 97, Word 2000, and WordPerfect.
Dig a bit deeper, and you'll notice that Word 2002's structural changes boost wordsmithing productivity. The Task Pane, a side-mounted vertical panel that's reminiscent of IE's Explorer bars, is tops on our list of improvements. In the Task Pane, you can open old documents or create new ones, format documents, translate text into other languages, view the Clipboard contents, and even initiate a mail merge (a mass mailing with recipient-specific content). All these tools are already accessible through Word's menus, of course, but the Task Pane puts them all in plain sight, just one click away.
Word's Smart Tags, tools that appear in certain circumstances (such as when you hover the cursor over a name or address) are less useful than the Task Pane. When a Smart Tag pops up, click it, and it reveals a context-sensitive menu that lets you, for instance, add a name to your Outlook address book or send e-mail to that contact.
No more lost files
Version 2002 attempts to make up for Windows' own instability by building more document recovery tools into the application. Word now lets you save open documents after the app crashes or locks up, and it automatically repairs damaged files when you try to open them. If you run Word on Windows 95/98, which are notoriously prone to crashing, these antidisaster tools are a godsend. (They're less useful, however, on more stable Windows 2000.)
As part of Office XP, Word relies on the suite's speech recognition engine for hands-free program control and dictation into documents. In general, speech recognition these days is slow and inaccurate, but Microsoft's speech tool is especially lame. It doesn't recognize voice-activated editing commands such as "Select the sentence" and doesn't automatically switch between command and dictation modes. Word's speech recognition doesn't hold a candle to a first-rate, third-party program such as IBM ViaVoice.