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Issue #438: December 13–19, 2015

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Q: I read your column religiously and thoroughly enjoy it. I’m somewhat of a geek too and pride myself on solving all or most of my issues with computers and/or software. “Google is my friend”. However, I have a problem I can’t find anything on. 3 days ago I attempted to install an older XP game on my computer and the install crashed and hung up. I had to terminate it using Task Manager. Since then I can’t use any of my Office 2007 products or Adobe Reader XI. I get the following error: The application was unable to start correctly (0x80000003). Click OK to close the Application. I ran the Repair on Office to no avail and uninstalled Adobe Reader to no avail. Any advice would be most appreciative. I have an image I created about a month ago. If necessary I can re-image the HDD.

– Don T.
Valparaiso, Florida

A: First, let me say thank-you for the kind words about the column, Don.  It’s always nice to know one’s work is appreciated.

Your problem was a new one on me – I’ve never heard of this happening before.  However, my Google-Fu must be superior to yours, as I was able to find a number of forums and discussion boards where this topic was active.  Let’s discuss first, then I’ll tell you what I learned, and let you take it from there.

First of all, even though it is Office applications that are failing to run, the description you supplied tells me that the problem does not lie with Microsoft Office itself.  Your error occurred when installing a completely unrelated piece of gaming software (which obviously doesn’t use Office).  Further, it was not just Office that was affected, but Adobe Reader, and perhaps other applications that you’re not even aware of yet.  So, the logical assumption is that the installation has messed with something that all of these seemingly unrelated applications utilize, rather than the applications themselves.  That’s probably why running the Office repair and uninstalling Adobe Reader didn’t fix anything – there’s nothing wrong with them to fix.

Older software, of course, has no way of knowing how to properly interact with versions of software that are produced at later dates.  From the perspective of a software engineer I can tell you that interfaces change, the format and order of data in files change, the names and existence of components change and more. Any of these, and a host of other stuff can cause corruption.  Software vendors try really hard to stop that from happening, but it is quite literally impossible for them to test every possible combination of hardware, software, and software versions that their installation utility will encounter in the field.

So, what’s common on today’s systems?  One thing repeatedly mentioned in the forums I read was the version of the .NET Framework installed.  There’s no way for me of knowing for sure this is your problem, but it is possible that, failing to find the older version of the .NET Framework that it was designed to use, the game you were installing installed an older version of the Framework, or attempted to change something in the version that is already installed, thereby corrupting it for your more modern applications.  You could un-install and re-install the .NET Framework to try and correct things.  One other thing that quit a few people were pointing to as a definitive cause of the problem was Norton Internet Security.  A number of people who had the exact error message that you cited claimed that the problem vanished when they either disabled or uninstalled NIS.  This was somewhat borne-out by a post from a Norton representative in the same forum, saying “We are aware of this issue and our team is working to provide a resolution at the earliest.”  That was in early October, and there was a follow-up the next week saying Norton was still working on it, and would provide an updated status once they have a resolution.  There were no posts after that, but if you’d like to watch for updates on your own, or push them for more information, you can visit the forum yourself at tinyurl.com/IGTM-0438.  In the meantime, if you’re running NIS, that sounds like a likely culprit.

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