Why Word has a problem with an open dialog box

Back in 2010 an Office Watch reader drew our attention to this Microsoft Knowledge Base article 2008277 (update: after we published this article the KB article was totally removed by Microsoft).

“Error message “The command cannot be performed because a dialog box is open” when opening a Word file from outside of Word”

It’s was curious article for several reasons. Firstly it’s a long known problem in Office programs (at least 20 years including Word 365) and the cause given by the article doesn’t seem right.

The error message is easy to reproduce:

  1. From Word (any version) open a document
  2. Go to a dialog box such as File | Open , Save As or Print
  3. Leave the dialog box open
  4. Go to Explorer and double-click on any Word document

The document can’t open because the dialog box is still visible – hence the error message.

We’ve seen this error for as long as we’ve had Word; well over 20 years.

According to Microsoft the cause is “where Word does not know the current user.” But to us the problem is caused by the dialog boxes. Some dialogs like File | Open are ‘modal’ meaning that the program can’t accept any input until the dialog is closed.

Interestingly Excel 2007 behaves differently. When you double-click on the second Excel file nothing happens except focus is changed to the Open dialog. As soon as you close the File Open dialog the second Excel file will open up.

After our original article appeared, the KB article was totally removed.  Not even amended to say ‘This behaviour is by design’ but erased from Microsoft – now an ‘un-article‘ as Orwell might say.

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