Microsoft Office’s standalone safe mode can save your butt from bugs

Identify those bugs and crush them.
Person working on pc opening safe mode
Buggy software be gone! Windows / Unsplash

If you’re a Microsoft Office user you know that bugs and issues with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook can seriously derail your productivity and your workflow.

Unfortunately, as with any software, your MS Office problems can quickly have you tearing your hair out or banging your head on the desk in frustration. But don’t panic—there’s a built-in troubleshooting tool you can turn to.

Take a deep breath, try running Office in Safe Mode, and you might find those annoying bugs are gone. It’s definitely worth investigating before you explore any other more drastic  options or decide to switch to the competition altogether.

What is Safe Mode?

Firing up Safe Mode on Microsoft Office doesn’t require any health and safety training. This setting launches a stripped down version of  Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Outlook, keeping  some of its features and functions disabled. Only the core parts of the program will be active, which in a lot of cases might help you identify the issue and solve it for good.

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For example, you won’t see any customizations you’ve made to the toolbar and you won’t be able to edit Office’s preferences. Safe Mode also disables the AutoCorrect list, and the program won’t attempt to open any files it didn’t properly save last time. Add-ins, templates, and extensions will be unavailable as well, and you won’t be able to open or create  documents with restricted permissions.

Presumably Office was running fine when you first installed it, so any changes made since then—like an add-in or a corrupted document—are probably the cause of the problems you’re now experiencing.

Try Safe Mode if you find the programs in MS Office are quitting unexpectedly or aren’t starting up properly at all. It can also be helpful if your applications are running but feel slow or buggy—comparing how they normally run with how they do in Safe Mode should give you some clues as to what’s going on.

Leaving Safe Mode is as simple as quitting the program and starting it again as you usually would. It’s also worth noting that Office will sometimes load up Safe Mode automatically if it detects that it’s having problems. You’ll know that’s the case if you look for the Safe Mode entry in the window title bar.

How to start Office in Safe Mode

Safe Mode is only available on Microsoft Office for Windows, so if you’re having difficulty with Office on a Mac then you’ll need to try an alternative troubleshooting approach. Disabling extensions and add-ons might work if you can get into the application. If the issue is around a particular file, try saving it in a new location under a new filename.

To open an Office application in Safe Mode, hold down the Ctrl key while you launch it: whether when you click the entry on the Start menu, or when you double-click a shortcut on the desktop. If you’ve done it right you should see a confirmation message asking you if you want to launch the application in this mode.

The other option for launching Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Outlook in Safe Mode is to do it via the Run dialog. Open the search option from the taskbar, type “run” and then choose the Run app. Type the name of the application you want to launch, followed by the “/safe” flag, and then hit Enter. The full line should look like one of these:

winword /safe

excel /safe

powerpnt /safe

outlook /safe

You’ll know when an application is running in Safe Mode as it will say so on the title bar of the window. If the program launches, you can do some troubleshooting: Click File, Options, and Add-ins, for example, to see third-party extensions that might be causing Office to crash. From the same screen you can enable these add-ins individually, which might help you work out which one is causing problems.

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There are lots of Office bugs and issues, so it’d be impossible to provide a step-by-step guide to solving them all. Still, Safe Mode should help in your troubleshooting, and can at least get your programs up and running so you can poke around in a few settings and files. If you’re still having problems after trying this, you might need to do a complete reinstall or repair your Office installation.