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Add-Ins in Microsoft Word

(Helper Files/Programs That Sometimes Cause Problem)

This page last revised: 03 Jan 2017 07:32:49 -0600 .

 

People are often directed to this page because they are receiving a query about whether they want to save changes to the attached template (the normal template). The converse of this also happens where they try to save changes to the normal template and are prevented from doing so (without notice). Such changes are things like modification of styles, recorded macros, and saved AutoText or AutoCorrect. These problems are usually symptoms of a poorly-written Add-In for Word. (If in a corporate network, the problems can also be caused by group polices or automatic rewriting of the normal template. This is becoming rare as IT professionals learn of those problems.)

Background

Microsoft Word, at least since Word 97, has allowed third parties, including users, to change the program's interface with the user by adding menus, toolbars, ribbons, macros, keyboard shortcuts, and other building blocks or components. In Word 97 this was done only by using Global Templates  loaded as Add-ins, usually by placing them in Word's Startup Folder. These are Word template files, created and editable in Word. (Templates stored in the OFFICE startup folder will also be loaded as Add-Ins.) Beginning with Word 2000 another kind of Add-In was allowed, a .COM Add-In. These are programs.

With the introduction of COM Add-Ins, though, came problems. The easiest way to make changes to the Word user interface seems to be to change that interface in the normal template. There can be multiple problems that arise when you do that. These include an alert to the user when leaving the program that changes have been made to the template and asking if those should be saved, the inability of the user to save changes to defaults, and (much more rarely) repeated additions of controls or buttons to the interface (one added each time Word is started).

Add-Ins that do this are poorly-written. There are other ways to make the changes when the Add-In is loaded that do not trigger the alert or block the user from making their own changes. Add-Ins that cause these problems sometimes are installed as a part of the initial setup of a computer. They sometimes come with very good, useful, expensive commercial programs.

The Alert to Save Changes to the Normal Template Should Be Switched "ON"

Word has an option to alert the user if changes are about to be saved to the normal template upon exiting Word. This option should be kept on. Recent versions of Word install with this turned "off." You want it turned on. The normal template is a key component of Word. You do not want changes made to it unless you approve them. I suspect it was turned off as a part of installation because of the number of calls to Microsoft and to corporate IT departments caused by poorly-written Add-Ins triggering the alert.

In ribbon versions of Word, this setting is in the Word Options - Advanced.

 

The Word 97-2003 dialog appears below. Tools > Options > Save

I tell people this is Word's equivalent to the smoke alarm. If it keeps buzzing, something is wrong that needs fixing. The solution to the problem is not taking the battery out of the smoke alarm, or switching off this alert.

Add-Ins Can Be Useful

One solution to these problems is to start Word without loading Add-Ins. This is done through the command-line switch /a. Doing this is a useful diagnostic tool; it lets you pin down that an Add-In is the source of your problem. It is not how you want to run Word, though. Add-Ins can be very helpful in using Word or in using Word with other programs such as Adobe Acrobat. They can make your life easier. Here is a link to some of the free template Add-Ins I've developed. I use a number developed by others as well.

To start Word without loading Add-Ins you use the following command in the Run Window under the Start Menu:

winword.exe /a (note the space before /a)

In Windows XP and later, you can get to the Run window by pressing the Windows key with the letter R.

(In Windows 8 or later, the run command can be found among the Windows Apps between Help and Task Manager. You can also use the search bar and click on the result that shows up. - See below.

If you have multiple versions of Word installed on your computer and this launches the wrong version, you will have to find the actual path to the winword.exe file that runs the version you want. Word 2013 should be in a folder Office15. Word 2010 should be in a folder Office14. Word 2007 will be in a folder labeled Office12. Word 2003 will be in a folder labeled Office11. Word 97 will be in a folder labeled Office.

Short-term Work-Arounds for Change Default Problems Caused by Poorly-Written Add-Ins

These are called "short-term work-arounds" because they don't fix the problem but they let you get your work done until you can take the time to fix the problem.

Unable to save changes to defaults, changes to the normal template

You can open the normal template directly, make your changes there, and save. This will almost always defeat the blocking done by Add-Ins.

Normal Template in Microsoft Word - How to Find or Open the Normal Template

Note: You do not open the normal template (or any template in Word) by double-clicking on it.

Note: In Ribbon versions of Word you may want to be Changing Style Defaults in the Manage Styles dialog.

Use the command-line switch to start Word without Add-Ins.

winword.exe /a (note the space before /a)

See above. Add-Ins can be useful. Disabling all of them is not a long-term solution.

Annoying Message about Saving Changes to the Normal Template

Again, you do not want to turn off the alert.

Solving an Add-In Problem - the Long-Term Method

First, to make sure that it is an Add-In causing the problem, use the command-line switch to start Word without Add-Ins. To get to the command-line or run box use the Windows button with R, then type the following and press enter. (Don't type the stuff in parentheses!)

winword.exe /a (note the space before /a)

If the problem is an Add/in then you need to find and disable the particular Add-In causing the problem. If an Add-In is causing a problem the solution is to go through them one by one. Start by disabling the most recently added ones or ones that you do not know what they do for you. Here are links to two Microsoft pages on controlling Add-Ins. I would focus on COM add-ins first.

bullet Enable or disable add-ins in Office programs - Support - Office.com
bullet View, manage, and install add-ins in Office programs - Support

In Ribbon versions of Word, the Developer Tab in Microsoft Word 2007-2013 can be very useful. Remember though, that the problem can come from either kind of Add-In.

If with those Add-Ins disabled, you do not have the problem, turn them on, one-by-one, until the problem reappears. Then you have to ask: Does what this Add-In does for me outweigh the problems it is causing? Regardless of your answer, write to the creator of your problem. Tell them how many hours of frustration you've had. Ask them to fix it.

It is possible that two Add-Ins working in tandem can cause problems that neither causes on its own. I have not encountered this but remain open to the possibility.

 

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