How Microsoft Conspires To Anger Paying Office Customers

Angry Windows 7 has been widely acclaimed as the best Windows release in years, but Microsoft has still managed to also make it an evil sales tool for Office 2007 upgrades. Here's what sucks about pre-installed Windows 7 for Office 2003 users not planning to make a shift, and how to fix the dreaded MAPI32.DLL error.

Picture by tambako

My main reason for writing this post is that Microsoft has managed to conjure up a scenario for new Windows 7 users which makes Outlook all but unusable for Office 2003 users, and which can only be fixed with a bizarre combination of freeware tools, including a Linux boot CD. I spent an inordinate amount of time over the weekend trying to fix the problem on a friend's new Acer notebook, so I figure it's worth sharing.

My secondary reason is to ask why the world's richest software company is still asking users to manually rename obscure files just to get its own, charged-for software to work. The answer, as ever, is a combination of greed, technical incompetence and indifference to paying customers.

What's going on?

So here's the scenario in a nutshell: if you install Office 2003 on a machine which also has had a demo version of Office 2007 on it (which is pretty common on newly-sold PCs), then Outlook likely won't work. Instead, you'll get this error message the first time you try to start it:

Cannot start Microsoft Office Outlook. MAPI32.DLL is corrupt or the wrong version. This could have been caused by installing other messaging software. Please reinstall Outlook.

Reinstalling (or using the Office repair tool) doesn't work, and the problem will occur even if you uninstall the demonstration version.

Microsoft's official support advice for this problem is to rename one file, MAPI32.DLL, to MAPI32.OLD so that Outlook thinks it needs to repair it. This is neither sufficient or very helpful. Firstly, in many cases you have to rename other similarly-named files elsewhere on your system which the error message doesn't tell you about; simply renaming MAPI32.DLL in the Windows/System32 directory won't always help. (It certainly didn't for me, and other users have reported similar issues online.)

Secondly, Microsoft's security infrastructure means you can't simply rename the file. Because it's in a protected directory, you can't rename it even if you launch an administrator-level command window. On Vista, it's just about possible to change the permissions through an arduous process — but on the Windows 7 machine I used, every single permission-changing option that was relevant was permanently greyed-out. The whole point of the Microsoft security infrastructure is that users shouldn't have to (and therefore shouldn't) meddle with these files, but it's a bit pointless Redmond gloating about it when one of the company's flagship products demands that you rename a DLL file in a protected directory.

The MAPI32.DLL fix

If this happens to you, here's how I went about fixing it:

  • Install Lifehacker favourite Everything on your PC. This is the easiest way to find all the errant files (Windows' own built-in search is hopeless at this task).
  • Search for files called MAPI32.DLL. Try and rename them to MAPI32.OLD. If you can't, make a note (on paper) of the directory they are located in.
  • Perform the same search for files called MSMAPI32.DLL. Again, try and rename them to MSMAPI32.OLD, and note down the location if they don't. (In theory, the first search should catch these, but I found it didn't always.)
  • Burn yourself a Linux Live CD (one which lets you boot into Linux directly from the disc). I used Puppy Linux, but there are plenty of other options, and the disc will almost certainly be useful to you again somewhere down the track.
  • Reboot your machine with the CD in the drive. If you haven't configured your machine to allow booting from CD, you may need to change your BIOS settings. This is usually done by holding down the F2 key when booting and working through a series of menus (look for the 'Boot' option, and make sure that your CD drive is listed above your hard drive).
  • Once your live CD boots, navigate to the directories you noted before and rename the files. (This will vary depending on which one you've chosen, but you'll likely end up in an Explorer-like interface.) Because Linux doesn't care about the Windows protection 'rules', you shouldn't have any dramas.
  • Shut down the PC, remove the CD, and then reboot.
  • Cross your fingers and try running Outlook. With luck, it will repair itself and begin running normally.

WTF?

Fixing the problem is one thing, but the question of why Microsoft wants to force people with perfectly valid software to go through ridiculous hoops on a brand-new system remains. The cynical reaction is to assume that Microsoft would rather you purchased an Office 2007 upgrade, so the company doesn't care if it wrecks your existing Outlook 2003 install. After all, you've already paid for a new copy of Windows 7 (and a new PC) in this case.

I don't generally find conspiracy theories that involve companies pissing off their customers simply to sell them something very convincing. With that said, there's no doubt greed is the reason users are getting burdened with a crap trialware version of Office 2007 in the first place.

Whatever the motivation, there's at least two things Microsoft should be doing to try and mitigate the situation. The first is not to write such poor code in the first place. If Microsoft can't handle DLL management in Windows, then no-one else has a chance, really.

The second thing Microsoft could do is write some half-decent support documents. A quick Google search demonstrates that lots of people have had problems trying to rename these files, but there's no mention whatsoever of that issue in the online document regarding this issue. Microsoft makes a fortune from Office, so it can hardly argue it can't afford to support it properly.


Comments

    If Microsoft is doing to this to paying customers, the paying customers have the right to piss Microsoft off and switch to OpenOffice.

    How much you ask?

    Oh let me see..... NOTHING!

    Can't say I have seen this on three different machines (Acer, HP and home grown). Maybe it's the very first I don't get clobbered by this stuff. I usually do ....

    i got several family members using openoffice, until their macro-fuelled spreadsheets crapped themselves... as much as it pains me to admit, that is one weakness of openoffice... as my partner and my father both work for government organisations where very elaborate macro spreadsheets are used, turns out that openoffice became effectively a nogo for them.

    Couldn't you just uninstall the Office 2007 trial?

      I did that first, and the problem still occurred. Others have reported the same issue even if 2003 goes on before 2007. Basically, if you purchase a machine with Office 2007 demo on it, you're screwed.

    I don't like it how people complain about Excel macro support. Spreadsheeting software isn't meant for application development and users shouldn't need to be programmers in order to maintain a simple spreadsheet. The enteprises and organisations that build elaborate spreadsheet applications will eventually have to re-write the applications. They are also break very easily. In most instances where macro's are used a combination of mysql and php would be much better (and much easier).

      I am a developer, and i used to work at an smallish accountants (30 employees), and let me tell you Excel macros are brilliant for quick easy to use data manipulation and analysis displaying a table of data with thousands of rows and dozens of columns, being able to update a cell and have a bunch of things update immediately and working in conjunction with a macro is a lot easier than displaying 60,000 textboxes in a table in a web browser, lots of javascript and serverside code, not only does Excel do it better and faster, the end user can still change the layout and formatting (and it prints better as well).

      The a webpage cant replace everything (unless you can spend a few thousand hours instead of 5 minutes), the sooner you learn that the better off you'll be.

    For best performance: after completing the procedure put the Linux CD back in the drive, boot up and click "install to drive". :)

    umm hello? MS recommend always installing older versions first before installing newer versions such as when dual booting Windows. If users are too dumb to uninstall Office 2007 first, then it's their own fault.

      As noted in the article and below, uninstalling Office 2007 prior to installing 2003 does not eliminate the problem. This isn't user stupidity -- it's poor coding.

    I'm going to throw it out there...There appears to be a staggering failure of fairness here.

    how can you possibly insist on upgrading to the superior Windows 7 the moment it came out... but have an issue with having to upgrade to the superior Office 2007 almost 3 years after it came out.

    Office 2003 is now 2 versions old. Microsoft cannot be expected to support software indefinitely

      That mischaracterises the situation. It wasn't a case of my friend upgrading to Windows 7 "the minute it came out" -- it was a case of buying a new PC to replace an old one. Office 2003 covers everything he needs (and doesn't have the ribbon), so why pay for a new copy of that?

      In any event, there's no reason Office 2003 can't run on Windows 7 other than the demo version of Office 2007 making it very diffficult to install. What's fair about that? Also FWIW, 2003 is one version old -- Office 2010 isn't yet a commercial product.

      Hmm, yeah this is annoying (2007 trial stopping 2003 from working) - however, if your using full Outlook in anger, you are more than just a "casual" office user most likely, and p.s. Outlook 2007 is SOOOOO MUCH BETTER THAN 2003!!!! you are doing nothing but inflicting pain on yourself if you keep using Outlook 2003. For me I still have Excel and Powerpoint 2003 installed for work compatibility reasons, but Outlook and Word are at 2007 - got rid of all the old bugs, especially that annoying "Cut and Paste Crash" one.

      ps: if this is the worst thing about Windows 7, seems like Microsoft did a pretty good job :)

      I agree with Jack and find it a little unfair to blast Microsoft for not supporting a version of Office that is two versions old (let's not ignore the fact that most Lifehacker readers would be aware of availability of Office 2010 - http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2009/11/office-2010-professional-beta-available-for-download/).

      I think that 5 years of support is enough, and by my count we're now on year 6 for Office 2003. If you're comfortable with Office 2003 UI, then I'm sure sticking with Windows XP rather than upgrading to Windows 7 won't be that big a problem…and for those who are fussy there's an inconvenient hack (as outlined in the article).

        Office 2010 isn't available for purchase yet, just as a beta, and as such is entirely unsupported -- so I don't see how it comes into the argument. And it isn't that 2003 can't run on Windows 7 -- it can't run well on Windows 7 if newer version trialware has been installed. Don't do that and there's no problem. That's just poor software planning and coding on Microsoft's part, exacerbated by its poor attempts to document the issue.

    Its not MS who puts the Office 2007 demo on the OEM Pcs, it is the PC vendors.

      Being a little naive here, aren't we Steve? Who does the trial software benefit?

    Uhhh.. what's wrong with Start->cmd->right click->run as administrator, cd \windows\system32, rename mapi32.dll mapi32.old.

    Works fine for me.

      Ahh.. I see, the problem is that the files are owned by TrustedInstaller. You have to take ownership first by clicking on the Advanced button, going to the owner tab, click edit, choose your user name, then hit ok, then you can change the permissions to full control and rename it. It's a couple extra steps, but doesn't require using Linux.

      I tried that to no avail.

        This is how I did it remotely to a client without access to the machine or linux boot disk:

        * Took ownership of the file as well as added user account to NTFS permissions for c:\windows\system32\msmapi32.dll and renamed it.

        * Renamed msmapi32.dll file in c:\program files\common files\system\msmapi\1033\ to something else

        * Did a detect and repair through Word (because Outlook still won't work)

        * Also uninstalled BCM (business contact manager) as the addin seemed to be causing issues. Disabled the SQL Writer VSS service (to stop possible bluescreens which I've received in the past).

        * Reboot ... and cross your fingers :) Worked for me.

    I havnt encountered this problem but the microsoft support page only asks you to rename msmapi32.dll (and even makes a note of not mistaking this for mapi32.dll) and this post asks you to rename everything with 'mapi32' in it... Is this really necessary?

    Good luck with Windows 7!
    I gave up on Microsoft after 18 months of Vista 'nightmares' and decided to try Ubuntu / Linux.

    Linux has proven to be such a time and cost saver that I've never looked back (well except for the time spent reading about other people's suffering on Microsoft platforms..)

    To be honest, booting a linux distro is confusing to a lot of Windows users, and possibly unhelpful advice - especially given the lack of detail you provide for using linux.
    There is a much simpler way to take control of user files, and that's to use a piece of software simply titled "Take Control":
    http://www.downloadsquad.com/2007/11/30/take-control-of-pesky-locked-system-files-in-vista/

    This is a pretty biased post...

    Also note that the same issue occurred in Windows and while annoying its fairly trivial to resolve. I also think you'll also find that it occurs on Windows XP machines that have been downgraded from Office 2007 to 2003 so I highly doubt its something they have purposefully done.

    Would this software help remove the reboot requirements?

    Unlocker:
    If it can not unlock it, you can get it to rename the file on the next reboot.

    Can someone give it a go?

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