Many individuals and business owners are asking themselves "should I upgrade to Microsoft's Office XP?" The real question that they should be asking is the following: "Is there something that this package enables me to do that truly justifies changing from software that works to the unexpected that could halt office productivity?" My guess is that the answer is "no" with regard to XP and it's Microsoft size upgrade price. Upgrade If There is a Need In this reviewer's opinion it is not a good idea to install a new version of an application soon after its initial release since there are bugs and patches to be expected. In addition, your office environment may present a unique situation and may require a software patch. The delays in productivity caused by these bugs or irregularities are frequently not worth the upgrade -- notwithstanding the costs -- unless the upgrade would significantly increase your office productivity and provide essential features. In fact, Office XP will not run on Windows 95 which most would probably find surprising. In this case we are talking about an incremental upgrade at best for most individuals and small businesses. What's New Out of the box the changes look superficial although, in some cases, the new colors do not reflect an improvement. An interesting feature is the Task Pane, a block on the right side of your work that shows you the last few tasks. You had better have a large monitor to use this feature or you'll find that it clutters your limited screen real estate needlessly. It's not really customizable and I found the feature relatively useless and caused more eye irritation than it was worth. It is the only improvement to PowerPoint 2002 worth mentioning in this review. Smart Tags are little context sensitive menus that pop up in your documents while working with them. For example, paste text into a word document and the smart tag will give you formatting options. Keep typing and it disappears. Sharing documents on an intranet is made easier with the SharePoint tool. Also included is a limited implementation of voice recognition, which is best left to those software applications that specialize and excel in that area. There are new recovery tools which this reviewer has had the fortune of not having to use. While we aren't sure how well this works and it may simply be an implementation of a macro to recover saved documents. Regardless, save often and regularly. Word 2002 includes some useful new features. A language translation tool will translate documents between several languages (still left to professional translators except for limited draft documents). Included are Spanish and French. Editing documents in a workgroup is somewhat improved by including comments in the margin (and tags such as "deleted" which have a line indicating from where), and up to ten different people can edit a document. Sending documents in e-mail has also become a one step process. Excel 2002 includes fewer improvements such as the "Watch Window" which will show you how changes in one cell can affect your document. The most dramatic addition is Excel's ability to collect information from the Internet to be included in a spreadsheet. Outlook 2002 includes the integration of other Microsoft offerings (which will undoubtedly soon be built into the operating system some time soon!) such as access to Hotmail and MSN Messenger. A clean up tool to eliminate line breaks on text based e-mail is helpful. There are some additional security additions for virus protection but this application still presents opportunity for hackers with so much going on under the hood While there are some new improvements in the professional addition (Access 2002, Publisher 2002, Frontpage 2002), this review will not cover those areas. Access includes some small improvements that will probably affect only those who specialize in database programming (new XML support, data pivot tables) MS data access pages) Glitches and Disk Space We have encountered some minor upgrade bugs while installing the 210MB upgrade onto our 20 gig hard drives. (The size of the install may only present a problem to those offices running on legacy hardware.) Some of the more annoying irregularities include messages open in Outlook do not register a separate window in the task bar. If you misplace your message behind open windows, such as an IE window, you will have to minimize your windows to find it lurking behind one of them or switch to Outlook and use the drop down menu. Upgrading for me from Office 2000 was seamless but not without its problems. All of Outlook's menu bar icons pointed to an "unknown folder" that should have been known. The problem is easily remedied by someone who knows the program -- delete all the aliases and create new ones. Be sure to have your tech support number nearby. Conclusion The Microsoft Office suite keeps getting better but at a price that is difficult to justify for most. After all, what else do you want your word processor to do -- cook dinner perhaps? Large offices will find improvements to be minor and costly with regard to time and licensing fees, smaller offices may not even notice much more than the new colors. Rumor has it that Microsoft went looking for future revenues after this technology demise and decided that you were the solution. Expect more frequent upgrades along with a rumored pricing plan that will lock you into purchasing them or pay more later. This reviewer thinks that if you mostly use Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint, were happy with 97, overwhelmed with 2000, then this upgrade package will probably not impress at all. Best to wait and avoid "upgrade envy" if possible -- use the money for something more productive. IMPORTANT NOTE: The final policies regarding Microsoft's XP upgrades are apparently not yet set in stone. Rumor has it that you may not be able to skip an upgrade or pricing will be considerably higher. Regardless, this reviewer plans to use Office 2000 until XP proves itself to be a better product and will save the money as long as possible until the upgrade policies are clear.