It’s very frustrating for your users (and you) to spend several hours working on a document, only to have Microsoft Office crash. Of course, such crashes always seem to occur when the data hasn’t been saved. Believe me, I know. I write for a living using Microsoft Office. You’ll be happy to know that Microsoft has included an Office XP feature called the Application Recovery Tool to help you deal with Office system crashes.

Loading the Application Recovery Tool
When a crash occurs, the last thing you want to do is go to the Microsoft Web site and figure out where they moved the help file or download you need. So it’s a bonus that the Application Recovery Tool is included with Microsoft Office and is installed automatically. When a crash does occur, there’s nothing to download and there’s no hunting for the Microsoft Office XP CD. You can find this tool on the Start | All Programs | Microsoft Office Tools menu.

Using the Application Recovery Tool
When the Application Recovery Tool opens, you’ll see a dialog box like the one shown in Figure A. The Application Recovery Tool lists which Microsoft Office applications are running. The tool lists each application once, regardless of how many instances of the application are actually running. It’s possible that if you have an older version of an Office application running, the older version will be listed in the Application Recovery Tool, but the tool is designed to work only with Office XP applications and has no effect on older office applications.

Figure A
The Microsoft Office Application Recovery Tool lists a single instance of every Office application that is running on the system.

The Restart Application button
When Office applications fail, Office will attempt to recover the document you were working on the next time you open the application. The Restart Application button is an extension of this feature. To use the feature, select the Office application that has failed and click the Restart Application button. The Application Recovery Tool will attempt to make the application save a backup copy of the document you were working on. The tool will then close the application in question, reopen it, and display the following error message (or a similar one naming Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.):

Microsoft Word has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.
The information you were working on might be lost. Microsoft Word can try to recover it for you.
Please tell Microsoft about this problem.

Next, a dialog box will appear, giving you the chance to report the error to Microsoft. Once you’ve clicked either the Send or the Don’t Send button, the Office application will terminate and then reopen. When the application reopens, the unsaved data should appear within the application. You’ll also see that a window is open to the left of the main application screen that shows the data sets available for recovery. For example, in Figure B, Book1 is available for recovery.

Figure B
When the Office application reopens, unsaved data should appear within the application.

The End Application button
Using the End Application tool is similar to using the Task Manager to shut down an application. If you select an Office application and click the End Application button, Office will make no attempt to recover data. Instead, a dialog box will inform you of the error and give you the chance to report the error to Microsoft. Once you’ve clicked either the Send or the Don’t Send button, the offending application will close and will not automatically reopen. After you’ve clicked the End Application button, there’s no turning back. The Microsoft Office Application Recovery Tool doesn’t ask, Are you sure? before closing the application.

The Cancel button
As you might expect, the Cancel button is used to abort the recovery process. By clicking Cancel, you effectively close the Application Recovery Tool. When you use Cancel, no attempt is made to terminate the failed Office application or to recover any data.

Use Event Viewer log files to discover what happened
It’s nice to know that you might be able to recover unsaved data for a user after a crash or a lockup. But if you’re like me, you probably want to know what went wrong so you can prevent the problem from happening again. Office XP will tell you that an error occurred, but it never tells you what the error was.

The actual error message is recorded in the event log. To access the event log, open the Windows XP Control Panel and select Performance And Maintenance | Administrative Tools. When the Administrative Tools window opens, double-click on the Event Viewer icon. In the Event Viewer, select the Application log from the tree on the left. You’ll see a list of application-level errors, such as the one shown in Figure C. Notice that Office XP errors are listed as Microsoft Office 10 in the Source column.

Figure C
The Event Viewer contains the actual error messages.

If you double-click on the error message, you can see more information about the error, as shown in Figure D. Once you have this information, you can go to the Microsoft Product Support Web site and search for information on fixing the error.

Figure D
You can double-click on an error for more information.

Get additional help with the AutoRecover feature
Whenever Office crashes or locks up, don’t try to terminate the application in the usual manner—using the Task Manager to shut down the program. Instead, leave Office running and open the Application Recovery Tool. For more help with Office troubleshooting, check out information on the AutoRecover feature from the Microsoft Office XP Web site.