Word 2011: Computer restart fixes problem with Normal template

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
November 21st, 2010 • 6:09 pm

On Friday I wrote that I was completely pissed off with Word 2011, which, after an application crash and relaunch, had reverted to its default settings and was refusing to let any preference setting changes or customizations stick.

Further investigation on my part revealed that Word 2011 was working fine in another user environment, so the problem was specific to my user environment. I trashed every Microsoft application support and preference file that I could find, and still Word 2011 continued to refuse to remember any of my preferences or customizations.

When comparing Word 2011’s behaviour in my own user environment to its behaviour in the other user environment, I also noticed that, in my environment, when I was quitting Word, I was not getting the little dialog that pops up for a fraction of a second with a message indicating that Word is saving the Normal template and a progress bar. So this to me indicated that Word 2011 was having a problem with its Normal template in my own user environment.

But I had trashed this template more than once and Word was always putting a new one in its place (now under “~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/User Templates/,” because Microsoft’s engineers have yet again changed the location of the default template), with a creation and modification date of some time in September 2010. It now appeared that, no matter what change I tried to make in my preferences or toolbars in Word 2011, the application would no longer save the customized Normal template upon quitting and would just keep using this default version of the file from September 2010 without remembering any of my changes.

At the time, I just gave up and started working on other things that didn’t involve Word 2011.

Then yesterday I had a seemingly unrelated problem with Mac OS X itself. When I woke the computer from screen sleep, instead of the password dialog, I got lots of HD activity and then Mac OS X took me back to the login window with all user environments closed, even though I had left my two user environments open with applications running in both.

I have seen this bug before in Mac OS X. It happens from time to time and I can’t tell what causes it, so I cannot submit a useful bug report to Apple with reproducible steps. Fortunately, it does not happen too often and I just have to live with it.

But it effectively is like a forced restart of the computer, and the next time I tried to launch Word 2011 after this pseudo-restart I got this dialog box:

Normal template alert

“Interesting,” I thought, and after clicking on “Yes” (apparently, Microsoft still hasn’t got the memo about Yes/No dialog boxes after all these years), I immediately proceeded to try and change some preferences again and quit Word 2011. And sure enough, when I quit, I saw the little dialog that pops up for a fraction of a second with a message indicating that Word is saving the Normal template and a progress bar. And when I relaunched Word 2011, my preference changes and customizations had finally stuck!

Phew! So obviously there was something very weird going on with Word after this application crash that it has suffered, and the only way to fix that problem was to restart the computer altogether. It’s a good thing to know if the problem occurs again, which it undoubtedly will, since Word 2011, like its predecessors, seems to enjoy crashing from time to time for no apparent reason and obviously is not designed to handle such crashes very gracefully. (Don’t get me started about the abysmally useless file recovery attempts that it makes after a crash.)

Anyway, I am glad that the problem is solved, although of course I had to stumble upon the solution all by myself. At least by writing about it here, I might be able to help out some fellow sufferers.

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