I spent ten minutes today looking at Microsoft Office XP for the first time. Two things jumped out as features that might be worth the price of admission, if they work. I’ll be watching the reviews.

— Voice recognition is built into the Office applications. Microsoft has been pouring money into voice recognition technology for years now, but this is the first time anything has come out of the labs (with trivial exceptions). There’s enormous pent up demand, but most people’s experiences with Dragon Naturally Speaking and the other competitors have been poor – a few loyal users, but there’s far more boxes gathering dust in closets. I’m hoping that Microsoft waited until they could deliver a satisfying experience. As always, only those of you with powerful processors and lots of RAM need apply. Watch this one – it could be great stuff.

— There was a tempting new button on the Word toolbar that claimed to allow searches for text in Office documents and within Outlook. If that’s truly a way to do a global searches in Outlook, I’m ready to sign up now. I store a lot of information in Outlook – so much that things are starting to disappear in there. I tried several different programs designed to index and retrieve information from Outlook. 80-20 Retriever was pretty good but a bit buggy. Enfish Onespace was interesting, but way too quirky. Nothing has been what I needed – a fast and efficient way to do a global search through my Outlook folders. It will be very handy if there’s solid indexing and retrieval built into Office.

One other thing, not important but a welcome improvement – the process of setting up new e-mail accounts in Outlook is finally simple and straightforward, with well-designed, self-explanatory screens. I’m starting to get more interested in Office XP . . .