The single most appealing feature of Word 2000 is what Microsoft didn't change: the file format. You can take a document produced with the new program and open it in Word 97 for Windows or Word 98 for the Macintosh, no file conversion required.

But while this version won't force anybody to upgrade, plenty of people will end up using it anyway. Some will find copies of it on their next computers; others will simply take the CD home from the office. Everybody needs to write (which is why we're reviewing only Word, not the full Office 2000 word-processing-spreadsheet-database-graphics-scheduling-e-mail suite).

What will these people get for their troubles? Only two new features directly improve the writing experience. You can position text and graphics on a page just by double-clicking where you want them to go, instead of tweaking margin settings or hammering the Enter key. And you can copy a series of words or graphics -- say, Web addresses -- onto the same clipboard, then paste them all at once.

Otherwise, the big change is an attempt to improve Word's horrifically complicated interface. The program now presents a trimmed-down set of menus, with the more esoteric options hidden until you select a button at the end of each menu. Use a hidden command, and it's "promoted" to full-time visibility. The toolbar is also less cluttered and easier to fine-tune. And that goofy talking paperclip is a bit more helpful -- and can be shut down entirely.

But the "Options" dialog box remains a mess of obscure descriptions, with many settings not even accessible there. For instance, to turn off AutoComplete, which auto-generates characters like trademark symbols and superscript numbers, you have to locate one of those hidden menu commands. And some parts defy common sense: Selecting "New " from the File menu does not yield the same result as its corresponding keyboard shortcut -- the former offers a helpful list of templates, including a "Pleading Wizard" (!) to crank out legal documents, while the latter creates a new blank document. The find-files utility, which lets you search documents by their contents, is imprisoned in a senselessly complicated dialog box. And I've yet to figure out how to get documents to start out in a font besides Times New Roman.

This version also makes it easy to save your work as a Web page, but that's a bad idea if you post the output where people use non-Windows computers (like, you know, the Internet): My Word Web files looked like junk on a Mac, with apostrophes and quotes turned into gibberish. Word's own Web-creation tools are pretty klutzy anyway; you're better off with something like Word's Office-mate FrontPage or Adobe's PageMill.

But as clunky as Word can be, it does get all the basic stuff done reasonably well; for a skilled user, it's still one of the most flexible tools around. It's not going to go away -- provided it doesn't implode from its own bulk.

Word 2000, Microsoft; Win 95-98, $339 ($85 upgrade from previous version or Corel WordPerfect.)

CAPTION: Word 2000 should look familiar to veterans.