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Managing Office Disabled Items

If a Microsoft Office 2003 or Office 2002 application crashes repeatedly when opening a document, the application adds the document to a Disabled Items list and refuses to open the file. Re-enabling a few items in an application is pretty simple. You just open the application that uses the documents (e.g., Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel) and choose Help, About. In the dialog box that appears, click the Disabled items button. You can then enable any documents necessary.  (For more recent information, see "Exchange 2010 and Outlook 2010: The Return of 'Better Together'").

Supposedly, the disablement of documents happens on a per-user basis, but I recently encountered a situation in which an entire domain of Windows Server 2003 Terminal Services users all had the same documents showing up as disabled, even though some users had never tried to open those documents. When the systems administrator enabled all the documents, they again showed up as disabled after the next logon.

It turns out that Office applications save the full path to each disabled document under the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Software\Microsoft\Office\Product Version\ProductName\Resiliency. So, for example, you'll find Word 2003 (which is version 11.0) disabled items under HKEY_CURRENT_ USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Word\Resiliency. However, when Terminal Services is running in install mode and a document crashes, Office saves the document path to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Windows NT\Current Version\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Office\ProductVersion\ProductName\Resiliency, then copies that path to the machine of each user who later logs on to the server.

If you're using Terminal Services, you need a strategy for managing disabled items. When documents are mysteriously appearing as disabled on a Terminal Services server, you should first check the documents to make sure they aren't corrupt. If the documents are fine, you then need to check the product subkeys under the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ SOFTWARE\Windows NT\Current Version\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Office registry key. Eliminating items there ensures they won't show up elsewhere in the future.

Many users might still have the document show up as a disabled item on their machines, which is typical. When that's the case, those users will need to re-enable the document on their machines, or the administrator will need to do so. Office's use of the full path to identify disabled items gives you a third option: Rename the file. The new path won't be in the Disabled Items list, and the document will open without any problems.

Learn more from "Should You Deploy Office 2003 SP2?" and "Understanding Outlook 2003's Item Scripting and Scripting Policies."

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