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The Normal.dot template holds a special place in the hearts of long-time Word users. It is a special place where many of your customizations are held. In Word, Normal.dot is available for all documents, even on a freshly installed system.
At least it was historically. Word 2002 and Word 2003 treat Normal.dot a bit differently, giving it more of a diminished role in the grand scheme of things. Historically, if you delete Normal.dot and then restart Word, the program will create a brand new version of Normal.dot with everything configured for Word's default settings.
Not so in Word 2002 and Word 2003. If you do a fresh install of Word or if you delete Normal.dot, Word will not create a brand new one from scratch when restarting. Instead, it appears that the default values that used to be written to Normal.dot are maintained internally in Word, without the need of being written. This is confirmed by the following wording in Microsoft's Knowledge Base article 290232:
"...if the global template (Normal.dot) does not exist in Microsoft Word with which to create a blank document, Word uses its internally stored settings to create a new blank document."
So when does Word create Normal.dot? When you make a change to the defaults. For instance, if you change the default font or customize a toolbar, then the template is created. From that time on you can load and modify Normal.dot as you would like.
This is, of course, a big change in the way Word handles templates. Thus, if you are running a Help Desk, and you instruct a Word 2002 or Word 2003 user to delete their Normal.dot and restart Word, they cannot automatically load up Normal.dot and start making changes in it. Instead, you will need to instruct the user to do some task that forces Word to create Normal.dot (such as setting the default font), restart Word (the new Normal.dot should be saved upon exiting), and then load and modify Normal.dot.
This process for creating a new version of Normal.dot is discussed a bit in Microsoft's Knowledge Base article 291291. Notice that the article says you have to force a save (Save All) in order to save the change to the default font. This is when Normal.dot is actually created.
WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1558) applies to Microsoft Word 2002 and 2003.
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