Microsoft is touting several new features and improvements to its latest Office release, Microsoft Office XP professional. The new version of Word, for example, features improved document collaboration features, a new Mail Merge wizard, and the much-heralded Task Pane.
Some of the improvements in XP are functional; others are merely cosmetic enhancements. The Task Pane, for example, is useful for those who aren’t familiar with Word’s drop-down menus or need to access frequently used features quickly. We found the Task Pane useful, but when we opened a new Word document, it didn’t appear automatically. We had to go to the File menu and select New before it appeared.
Another feature Microsoft touts is the ability to open attachments within the preview pane in Outlook 2002–but we were already able to do that in Outlook 2000. One standout feature, however, is the Accounts button, which lets you easily switch between mail accounts.
Improvements have been made in Excel, too, including support of XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and smart tags, which assign actions to particular data types.
Although the changes don’t represent a great over-all improvement, users will see some enhancement in several applications. ($579; www.microsoft.com)