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Quick Fix for Office display problems

How to quickly fix display problems in Microsoft Office. When Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook don’t show up on the screen correctly.

It doesn’t happen often but occasionally Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook open but as all grey.  Clicking around the screen displays just a ribbon or menu but not the whole program.

If other non-Office programs appear OK, it’s an Office problem.

There are various things to do for an ongoing solution but there’s one option in Office that’s likely to get you working again.

File | Options | Advanced | Display  and select ‘Disable hardware graphics acceleration’. This choice is normally off/deselected.

You should be able to reach that dialog box by clicking around the screen, starting at top-left to show the File menu.  It’s a bit clumsy but workable and you only need to do it once.

That option should get Office working properly but it’s a temporary measure.  Using hardware graphics is much preferred and should be on, even if you don’t understand the details of how or why (like most of us!).

Command Line

Alas, there’s no command line option to disable hardware graphics acceleration when an Office app starts.

However the Safe Mode option  /safe  for Microsoft Word or Outlook should help.

What’s happening and how to fix

Modern Office makes use of the clever graphics hardware and software options available in computers. Graphics changes are mostly driven by the demands of games but make Office look and work a lot better.  Hardware graphics features are faster and take workload off the main computer CPU.  Windows itself can handle the display but it slows down your computer and sometimes compromises quality.

Using the hardware graphics features lets PowerPoint show better animations and Excel better charts.  Overall, the interface looks nicer with more detail.

The downside is that sometimes the hardware and software don’t play nice together.  Putting stuff on the screen is very complicated, especially with high-resolution and complex graphics. For a long time, Microsoft resisted using hardware graphics because of the compatibility problems.  Eventually Office got better graphics with the ‘Disable hardware graphics acceleration’ option as a fallback position when things went awry.

What goes wrong?  Very rarely the mix of hardware graphics and the software drivers don’t work properly.  These problems are more likely to show up in games or playing high-res videos as well as Office.  The Office option means the hardware extras are ignored and Windows fully controls the screen display.

The long-term fix is to update or tweak the graphics software and drivers.

That depends on the computer you have so we can only give broad advice. Update Windows which might also update the video drivers.  Check what video card the computer has (make and specific model) and look for drivers and software direct from the maker (Nvidia, AMD, MSI Intel etc).  Only get drivers and software from the graphics card maker or Microsoft.

If the problem is in a virtual machine, check the Integration Services or Tools software on the guest OS is up to date. Check the video settings for the VM and perhaps disable some options like 3D graphics.

Hopefully, that will fix the problem and you can let Office use hardware graphics acceleration.

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