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Why is Word saving multiple versions of documents?

I have recently moved from Office XP to Office 2007 and am confused by a new Word behavior. Every time I open a document, word creates what appears to be a new file with the original name of the file followed by a number in parentheses. For example, a document named "Sample" will show up in the windows search window on the start menu as "Sample (13)" if I have opened it 13 times. Every time I open the document, the number goes up. Also, Word documents seem to stop showing up in the Recent Items list on the start menu once numbering starts.

Why is Word doing this? Is there an unseen benefit of which I am not aware? How can I stop it?

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