Folder Locations for Add-Ins

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 27, 2017)

Fletcher asked if anyone knows of all the folder locations from which Word might load global add-ins. The answer—as with many such answers in Word—can vary based on the version of Word being discussed.

In Word 97 there was a single startup path, which was the path specified by choosing Tools | Options | File Locations and using the Startup file type. For the balance of this tip I will refer to this as the "historical startup folder."

Starting with Word 2000, Microsoft changed things so that Word now has two startup paths. It still recognizes the historical startup folder, but also uses a factory-preset startup folder. This second folder is called Startup, and it typically is located in the C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\ directory (although you can specify a different location during installation). You cannot modify the location of this folder, nor can you change it. If you delete the folder, Word immediately recreates it when you next start the program.

There may be other startup folders as well, and the paths to those folders can vary, depending on the version of Word you are using, the version of Windows you are using, and how you have your system configured. Fortunately, Word actually names these folders Startup, so it is a simple matter to use the Windows Search tool to locate all Startup folders. Examining the path to the folders will indicate if they are related to Word or not. For instance, you may find a Startup folder for Word in the Documents and Settings folder, as in C:\Documents and Settings\Allen\Application Data\Microsoft\Word\Startup. You may also find profile-specific startup folders if your version of Windows implements user profiles.

Even though Word may create additional startup folders, it doesn't mean that Word uses those folders. This may sound confusing, but all you need to do is remember that if you are using Word 97, then Word only uses the folder specified in Tools | Options | File Locations | Startup. If you are using Word 2000 or later, then Word uses that folder and the factory preset startup folder. Any other startup folders that may exist on your system are left over either from previous versions of Word or from no-longer-used folders from the current version. (For instance, you may no longer use C:\Documents and Settings\Allen\Application Data\Microsoft\Word\Startup—even though Word once pointed the historical startup folder to this location, you may have changed it to a different location. The original remains, but is no longer used by Word.)

Sound confusing? It can be. It gets even more confusing when you start to factor in upgrades to Word. When you run the Word Setup program, it looks for the startup folders used in earlier versions of Word and transfers information in those folders to the startup folders used by the newer version (the one being installed). The old folders and their contents remain on the hard drive, even though they are no longer used. Instead, the copied information, in the new folder locations, is what Word uses.

It is interesting to note that some Knowledge Base articles mistakenly imply that Word 2000 and Word 2002 will look for startup files in folders defined in earlier versions of Word. The Setup program does this, as described in the previous paragraph, but Word itself doesn't.

The change to using two paths, but only listing one of them in Tools | Options | File Locations, makes life very confusing for users, especially given that some programs install add-ins in the historical startup folder but many other badly programmed applications install them in the factory-preset startup folder. As a result of this confusion, users often end up with the same add-in loaded twice due to the same add-in having found its way into both startup folders.

More confusingly still, in Word 2002 and Word 2003, if you have Trust All Installed Templates and Add-ins check box selected (it is selected on the Tools | Options | Security | Macro Security | Trusted Sources dialog box by default), any add-ins that are in the historical startup folder are treated as being "installed add-ins" and are trusted, whereas add-ins in the factory-preset startup folder are treated by Word as not installed add-ins and are not trusted. That, obviously, brings up a question as to why Word automatically loads them if they are not trusted and are not considered installed.

Another interesting tidbit related to the startup folders is that when you start Word 97 with the /a switch so that global templates aren't loaded, you can still look in Tools | Options | File Locations to find out the path to the startup folder. Beginning with Word 2000, when you start the program using the /a switch, Word changes what is displayed in Tools | Options | File Locations. Instead of the path you specified, Word displays the default path. The upshot is that if an add-in is crashing Word and you start Word with the /a switch, you can't easily tell where the historical startup folder is located. This can send the user on a wild goose chase to try to find the renegade add-in file.

For more information on startup folders and troubleshooting some of the problems associated with them, refer to the following articles at the Word MVP site:

http://wordmvp.com/FAQs/Customization/CheckIfAddinsInstalled.htm
http://wordmvp.com/FAQs/Customization/WhatTemplatesStore.htm

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1602) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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