Finger pointing begins in IE 5.01 SP1 fiasco; here's the fix

As reports of incompatibilities between Internet Explorer (IE) 5.01 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Office 2000 swept across the Web this weekend, the finger pointing began between the two teams at Microsoft responsible for the products. Of course, for the users affected by this, it's not important who caused the problem, what's important is that it just get fixed. But it's not coincidental, perhaps, that this problem should arise between two products that have been so poorly tested. Both IE and Office--especially its service releases, such as Office 2000 SR1--have poor histories of reliability. And for some reason, this bug doesn't appear on every install of IE 5.01 SP1, though it does appear almost universally on Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 98 SE.

Soon after the release of IE 5.01 SP1, I received reports of incompatibilities between it and Office 2000's help system, which reported that "Help requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 or greater." I was able to reproduce this problem on systems with both the original version of Office 2000 and Office 2000 SR1a, and so I posted the first warning about IE 5.01 SP1 to the WinInfo Web site on Saturday. Numerous readers have written in with a Registry fix for the problem, which I describe below. But it seems that IE 5.01 SP1 writes the wrong build number information to the Registry. In Windows Me, the version number of IE is 5.50.4134.0100, so a value of 54134.0100 gets written to a specific location in the Registry. This information helps applications determine which version of IE you've got. When you install IE 5.01 SP1, however, invalid information is written to this part of the Registry. The version of IE in SP1 in 5.00.3103.1000, so the value 53103.1000 should be written in the build number location. But it's not: Instead, IE 5.01 SP1 writes 5.00.3103.1000, which is incorrect. And when Office help starts up, it thinks you're using an older version of IE.

So here's the fix, which you should only try if you're familiar with editing the Registry. Launch regedit.exe, navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer, and find the Build key. You'll see that its value is 5.00.3103.1000. Change this to the correct value of 53103.1000 and Office help will work. I've seen fixes on the Web which suggest different values, but this is the correct one.

If you're not interested in hacking around in the Registry, which is completely understandable, Microsoft will probably reissue IE 5.01 SP1 sometime soon. And why not? In the crazy world of Microsoft bug fixes, this is the type of thing that we've come to grudgingly expect. IE 5.01 SP1a, anyone

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