Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I’m a heat seeker: somebody who gets involved in technology before it is well tested and debugged. I don’t do beta tests, but I’m usually near the front of the line for new versions of operating systems and applications. I try to do most of my testing on machines whose good operation is nice to have but not essential. Only after that do I upgrade the machines I’m counting on to do my work.
It’s a good plan, but sometimes I inadvertently don’t follow it. Case in point: I just upgraded my main workstation from Office 2007 to Office 2010. I’ve done a fair amount of testing of Office 2010, but apparently not enough. I didn’t analyze the results of the testing closely enough, but now I realize that I’d done five completely successful clean installations, and only two upgrades, one of which had mysterious problems that appeared to fix themselves.
On Friday I performed an Office upgrade from the boxed DVD.
By the way, I’d like to congratulate Microsoft, in a left-handed way, on the Office 2010 packaging. It’s not that the packaging is so good, it’s just that it’s a big step upward from the fingernail-breaking exercise in frustration that characterized Office 2007.
I let the installation program do a default upgrade. It finished after about 20 minutes, the last 10 of which had the installation progress bar full green. I thought it had hung, but my patience was rewarded with the success screen. The installation program wanted to do a reboot, which is a new thing with Office 2010; the previous two or three versions did not require a reboot after installation, which I had always found fairly amazing since I tend to think of Office as an operating system upgrade disguised an application.
After the reboot, I fired up Outlook. It appeared to have ported over all of my old mailboxes. I’m not sure if it was running off the old mail profile, or if it had upgraded the profile, but everything appeared to be there. Unfortunately, that was the end of the good news; when I hit the send/receive button, Windows 7 announced that “Outlook has stopped working.”
Back in the mainframe days, there was a term for program termination in an unexpected way: abend (for abnormal ending). The word seems to have fallen out of favor, but I suggest that it might be time to bring it back. The word “crash” refers to a certain kind of abnormal ending that is about the least graceful way a program can finish. “Hang” means that the program has stopped accepting input and performing useful work. The new, and welcome, tendency for the operating system to monitor the behavior of programs, and step in when they go awry tends to disguise what’s actually going on. Abend is a nice general term that pretty much covers the waterfront.
I tried hitting send/receive again, just to make sure that it wasn’t a coincidence, and Outlook obediently abended. I removed all the add-ins, to no avail. I tried safe mode; no joy. Then I deleted all of the POP3 accounts, and reentered the information. That fixed it. Apparently, the porting over of the information in the mail profiles was not as successful as I had originally thought.
I started reading my mail. The first two messages went OK, but reading the third one caused another abend. This sounded familiar; it was the same situation and I had encountered on a previous Office 2010 upgrade (and have previously reported here). The previous upgrade used the 64-bit version of Office 2010, which Microsoft does not recommend for general use. I had put my earlier problems down to the 64-bit build. Now, it looks like I had jumped to an unsupported conclusion. I checked the directory in which Office was installed on my main workstation, and verified that the installation program had installed the 32-bit version.
So, some of the e-mail messages caused Outlook to abend. The ones that did not seemed to be the ones without much formatting. However, I was unable to easily create an email message that caused an Outlook abend: text formatting, imbedded URLs, and imbedded jpegs and didn’t seem to faze it. Since Outlook uses Word to display e-mail, I thought this might be a Word problem. Sure enough, I soon found several documents that caused Word to abend.
I put in a call to Microsoft tech support. Interestingly, the Microsoft web site didn’t recognize my Product ID, and charged me 49 bucks for the call. It was a complete waste of time and money. I will spare you the details.
Since I had an unbroken series of successful new installs and two problem upgrades, it would seem that the logical thing to do would be to uninstall and reinstall Office 2010. I resisted that fix. If it worked, I wouldn’t know why it worked, and, as an engineer, I don’t like that. If it didn’t work, I would’ve introduced yet another variable that might complexify solving the problem.
“Why wouldn’t it work,” I hear some of you asking. The problem with the uninstall/reinstall solution in general is that the uninstall programs don’t we turn the machine to the state it was in before the installation. Many of the uninstall programs leave now-useless (and possibly harmful) junk in the registry. Many of them don’t clean up the application data files completely. I don’t know how good Office 2010s uninstall program is, and I certainly don’t know enough about it to trust it.
I went over to the test machine that still had the previously-troubled installation of the 64 bit version of Office 2010. The male clients seem to work OK, even with the viewing pane enabled. I opened up one of the Word documents that had caused problems on my main workstation. While it didn’t cause the 64-bit Word to abend, it couldn’t read the document. I went to a machine that had a clean installation of Office 2010, and it could read it just fine. Now I knew that the installation that looked like it had fixed itself had not actually done that; it had just gotten better. That diagnosis was confirmed when I found an email message that caused the 64 bit version of Outlook 2010 to abend.
I took stock. I had two Office 2010 upgrades that had failed, and they had failed in someone different fashion. Searching for a single cause would probably be fruitless. That left a time consuming research process, or the blunt instrument of uninstall/reinstall. I didn’t have a lot of time – I’ve got a show coming up – so I tried uninstalling and reinstalling on the main workstation.
The uninstall, using the Windows control panel, was uneventful. The reinstall took less than ten minutes. When I was done, I opened Word. Going to the File ribbon showed me a whole bunch of recently-opened files, indicating that the uninstall had not removed all traces of the previous installation of Word. Opening a problem document caused Word to abend. Bringing up Outlook showed all my mailboxes as before. The emails that abended Outlook 2010 the first time did the same thing.
I did a web search for “outlook 2010 crashes reading pane”, and found a forum with this statement: “In Windows 7, I checked Fonts through Control Panel and my Helvetic[a] icon instead of displaying “ABC” was showing “$%&””, together with information that the author had fixed his reading pane problems by deleting the (probably corrupted) font. I found a similar (not quite the same because I had several Helvitica fonts installed) thing in the font control panel on both computers that were experiencing Outlook abends. I removed the fonts.