Word X Experiment – Disk Is Full bug

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
March 24th, 2003 • 4:59 pm

Yesterday, while applying the final touches to a 25-page document in Word X, I once again encountered the “Disk Is Full” bug that has been plaguing the software since version Word 98 on the Macintosh.

The symptoms of the bug are straightforward: If you keep the same document open for a long time, making changes and hitting the “Save” command repeatedly, at some point hitting the “Save” command one more time causes Word to display an error dialog that states:

The disk is full. Free some space on this drive,
or save the document on another disk.
Try one or more of the following:
* Close any unneeded documents, programs, and windows.
* Save the document on another disk.

At that stage, it is impossible to save the document. If you can remember the last time you saved the document, you can select all the text typed since then, copy it to the clipboard, close the document without saving it (which is the only option that works) and then re-open the document and replace the appropriate part of the document with what you have in your clipboard, then save the document.

Alternatively, if you are not sure what has been saved and what is still floating in computer limbo, you can select the entire document (with “Select All” or cmd-A), copy it to the clipboard, close the document without saving it, re-open the document, select all, and paste, then save the document.

In both cases, you will have ensured that no data has been lost. (Of course, in theory it is always possible that Word X might crash right in the middle of this delicate procedure and cause all the stuff in the clipboard to be lost, but it’s a risk you have to take.)

It should also be noted that the “Disk Is Full” error message is, of course, entirely misleading. Your disk still has tons of room. It’s just Microsoft’s way of saying: “Ooops, you’ve just hit a bug that we’ve been too lazy to fix. Sorry about that. Nothing we can do to help you now.”

The beyond-pathetic aspects of this particular bug is that it has been around for ages on Word for the Macintosh. As far as I can recall, it first appeared with Word 98, when the word processor’s saving architecture started creating all these “Word Work Files” all over the place and “forgetting” to close these files.

Microsoft has never fully acknowledged the bug. It did post a Knowledge Base article on the bug in Word 2001, but of course, in typical Microsoft fashion, it blamed Apple for it (more specifically the “File Sharing” architecture in Mac OS) and the work-around suggested was both impractical and ineffective.

The bug is still there in Word X. John McGhie, a Microsoft MVP who regularly contributes to the microsoft.public.mac.office.word newsgroup, has told me that the bug was fixed by Microsoft and that the only reason why it still occurs in Word X is because of a “corrupted” Normal template. He has instructed me to rebuild my Normal template from scratch. I did just that. I am still experiencing the Disk Is Full bug, always in the same circumstances (working in the same document for a long while, repeatedly saving it).

Today, out of sheer curiosity, I devised a little experiment to see if I could reliably reproduce the bug. I wrote the following VisualBasic macro command:

Sub fillDisk()
' fillDisk Macro
' Macro created 23/03/03 by Pierre Igot
For xx = 1 To 1000
 Selection.InsertAfter Text:=(xx & Chr(13))
Next xx
End Sub

This effectively causes Word to insert numbers from 1 to 1000, each separated from the next by a return character (chr(13)), and hit the “Save” command after each insertion.

I ran the macro, hoping that Word would seize up after a while and tell me that my disk was full. It didn’t. It dutifully inserted all the numbers from 1 to 1000, saving after each insertion, and never complained about the disk being full.

What should I make of this? The bug does not appear to be as simple to reproduce as I would have hoped. And still it is very much there. It seems that it is caused by repeatedly saving more complex documents. But what is the degree of complexity required to trigger the bug? I don’t know.

Since Microsoft appears to be unwilling to acknowledge and fix the bug, I guess I’ll never know. Bummer.

6 Responses to “Word X Experiment – Disk Is Full bug”

  1. Brett says:

    Today, for the first time ever, I experienced the annoying “Disk is Full” bug while working on a 19-page paper in Word X. There is one difference with my proble, however. The document that refused to save had just been opened and I was attempting to save the first round of changes. I thought that it might have something to do with the size of the document, considering all of the embedded figures contained in the report. After choosing “Don’t Save,” I was able to open a new document and save any and all changes that I made to it. This truly does not make sense.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Strange, it’s the first time I hear it occurring so soon after opening a document. It probably boils down to “document corruption”, which is a grab-bag diagnosis for all the unexplained problems that Microsoft steadfastly refuses to acknowledge or fix. Glad you didn’t lose too much work!

  3. melissa says:

    Thank you for providing a solution to this very irritating problem. I had never seen it until today. I wised up and quit looking in Microsoft’s knowledge base and found you piece thru Google…

  4. melissa says:

    By the way, this was on a pc.

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    melissa: Yes, the bug appears to affect Word for Windows as well… I think I remember finding several articles (about the bug in PC versions) about it in Microsoft’s KB, but I agree that the KB is pretty badly designed. Thank God for Google :).

  6. JayDuff says:

    I work at a school district and this dread bug has reared its ugly head. Like Brett, above, this is happening on the first save (as opposed to Save As). We are seeing this on OS X (Panther)-based iBooks as well as OS9-based iMacs in two different schools, going to different Windows 2000 Servers. This just started happening, so I’m thinking a recent OS Update to the server may have something to do with it. I’ll post again if I make further progress. Thank the Maker for Google!

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