Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Stump the Geek:
Three Strange Tales in Word

June 2004

By Mike Gould

Everybody uses Microsoft Word, alas. Bloated, expensive, complicated, but the standard that has emerged from the trenches of the Software Wars of the Nineties. And sometimes what should be a simple exercise in memo-writing becomes a wrestling match When Word Attacks (sounds like a reality show, no?).

A Dirty Job, But Somebody's Gotta Do It
As Computer Support Guy (an exalted title that should always be capitalized), it falls to me to figure out just what Word was thinking when it did its latest baffling behavior. I don't consider myself an expert in Word, but I am fairly familiar with it. I am writing this article in Word, and went so far as to learn a bit about formatting styles when I wrote my screenplay ("Gigs in Space" - coming soon to megaplexes everywhere).

So here are 3 items ripped from the tattered casebook of one who has managed to fix Word when it types amok. (Amok is a little-known typographic symbol used by Viking word processors when planning raids against Celtic server farms. It looks like a head on a stick, but I digress).

The following problems all appeared with the Mac versions of Word, but as Word is solidly cross platform, the solutions apply to Windows Word as well. Trivia: did you know that Word was originally a Mac-only word processor? It was available on Macs for years before Windows caught up with Macs enough to handle it. Same for Excel.

The Case of the Disappearing Scrollbars
As I was going out the door after a long session with a client's 4 computers, the client's wife Yopi P. mentioned that the scrollbars had disappeared from her Word documents. I checked her iMac, and sure enough, the sides of her document were bare. I went into the various menus and putzed around (a technical term) with formats and such to no avail.

I showed her how to use the pageup - pagedown keys on the keyboard as a work-around, and left for another appointment, shaking my head. A bit later I searched Google (you just knew I'd work the Internet in on this somewhere - it's in my contract) on "Word disappearing scrollbars" and came up with nothing useful.

Then I remembered that Word has a little Help button at the top of the screen. I clicked on that, and a window popped up with a search field box. I typed in "scrollbars" and bingo: third item from the top - "Display or hide scroll bars". Clicking on that revealed:

1. On the Word menu, click Preferences, and then click View. 2. Under Window, select or clear the Horizontal scroll bar and Vertical scroll bar check boxes.

Ahh...Preferences. In Word, you can turn the scrollbars on and off. Who knew? And who would want to do this? Anyway, Yopi went to her prefs and clicked on the check box, and her scrollbars reappeared. How did they get turned off? Beats me; another mystery from the Digital Domain that is Word.

Moral: The "Help" menu is pretty handy for first call in times of Word weirdness.

The Case of the Mysterious Error Message at Shutdown
This one was more of an annoyance than a show-stopper: every time the client, Jenn C., quit out of Word, she would get an ominous error message "Word could not fire event". This was an interesting one for me because Jenn had the Word sound effects turned on with her default chainsaw sound. In testing various fixes it sounded like a lumberjack convention in her office.

The answer here was a bit easier to find - do a Google search on the exact error message. This revealed that several things can cause this, low memory, obscure .dll stuff (which is a Windows problem, and this was an iMac), and the answer: a corrupted Normal template. This is a file that stores your preferred font settings, etc.. I found it deleted it, and re-started Word. No more chainsaws on shutdown. When you do this, Word starts up looking for a Normal template; if it doesn't find one, it creates a default one from scratch.

Moral: Always write down the exact error message and search it on Google.

The Case of the Yellow Borders
This was a toughie that required around an hour of serious quality Putzing to fix. Becky S. had me update her operating system and her version of Word to the latest and greatest (OS X and Office vX). Afterwards, she reported a strange problem with the images she had embedded in Word documents: they all had a yellow background to them. What should have been a black signature on a white background became black on a yellow background. The images were scanned-in signatures she would place with business letters. The images were TIFFs, which is a common graphics format that many scanners output. These worked fine in OS 9, but yellowed in Word vX when printed to her HP color laser printer.

The images printed fine from Photoshop Elements, which can open TIFF files, so the problem had to be with Word's embedding behaviors. I explored various fixes to no avail. I prodded preferences, tweaked tools and stressed styles; no joy.

Then I remembered that Word has some image-processing built in to deal with embedded images. I messed with the "Format Picture" feature. Nada. Finally I stumbled on the Formatting Palette under the View menu. When you select your image, you get an additional set of tools, and under the Color Controls lives a button called "Set Transparent Color". I used this to set the background of the signature to transparent, and bingo, the yellow was gone.

I suspect the cause of all this was a mis-match between the color management Word provides and that specified in the HP printer driver. In other words, what Word insisted was white was interpreted by HP as being yellow. A better fix is to print this sort of thing to a black and white laser printer, and this is being implemented.

Moral: Sometimes a control panel setting will fix your problem - the problem is finding it.

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of, and welcomes comments addressed to

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