The Dell, Bluetooth, and Microsoft Office Compatibility Conundrum

Microsoft Office 2003. Are you still running it? You really shouldn’t be, as Microsoft is ending support of the product in less than a month. Well, since I know many are still running Office 2003, and are likely to (unwisely) continue to do so for a while, this bit of info may prove to be of help to someone, somewhere, sometime.

Dell laptops have long come with built-in Bluetooth capability. This is great for those of us who enjoy the use of Bluetooth headsets, mice, keyboards, etc. With built-in Bluetooth, you don’t need an extra USB dongle. This is especially important on certain Dell laptops, as the number of available USB ports is rather limited. In fact, this port limitation is exactly what led me to revisit a rather old Bluetooth compatibility issue.

When I first started deploying the Dell Latitude EXX10 series of laptops (E4310, E6410, E6510, etc.), an issue with Office 2003 quickly became apparent. Specifically, the various Office programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.) would randomly crash.┬áThe crash occurs most often in Excel, but I’ve seen crashes in the other Office programs, as well. I traced the issue to the Broadcom Wireless 375 Bluetooth Module. I believe this module came installed as a standard feature on the entire EXX10 line of laptops. Actually, it looks like it was an optional feature, but every laptop I deployed had it, so it must have been a pretty common “option.”

What was it about the Bluetooth module that caused the Office programs to crash? Kudos to the hardware engineers, as it really wasn’t their fault. Not this time, at least. It was the guys on the software side of things. As part of the driver installation for this Bluetooth module, a piece of software called “WIDCOMM Bluetooth Software” is installed. This software helps to manage Bluetooth connections and features. One of those features is a “Send to Bluetooth” option in the Office programs. Theoretically, you can use this feature to send the document you’re working in directly to your Bluetooth connection. This may allow you to send it to another user, directly to a Bluetooth printer (those exist, right?), or who knows what else.

Sadly, it is this “Send to Bluetooth” feature that causes Office 2003 to randomly crash. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I suspect it has to do with the Bluetooth module not being ready for calls at random times. Maybe the Office program’s Bluetooth add-in makes its call to the module, to see if it’s ready, and the call fails. The add-in doesn’t know what to do when that happens. So, what else is there for the add-in to do but crash, taking the Office program with it? Sure, it could just silently fail, but it makes much more sense for it to crash…

When I first deployed laptops with this issue (quite a few years ago, now), the most simple solution was to entirely uninstall “WIDCOMM Bluetooth Software”. Without the software installed, the “Send to Bluetooth” feature was no longer added to the Office programs, and Office stability was returned. With none of my users requiring the use of Bluetooth, uninstalling the module’s software didn’t cause any issues. Technically, the software isn’t even necessary to use Bluetooth. It just makes some aspects of Bluetooth use more convenient.

Cut to a few months ago, when a user running a Latitude E4310 suddenly needed to use Bluetooth. Why the need for Bluetooth? Well, remember how I mentioned the convenience of Bluetooth when dealing with a limited number of USB ports? The E4310 only has two USB ports, both of which the user was using, but they wanted to add a wireless mouse to their setup. Typically, you’d connect a wireless mouse via a USB dongle, but since they were already using both USB ports, that wasn’t an option. One could always get a USB hub, but who wants to lug that around? So, this was the perfect opportunity to put a Bluetooth mouse to use. The laptop had Bluetooth built in, so why not?

At first, I didn’t remember all of the issues with Office 2003 and Bluetooth, but they quickly came back to me. This time, though, I didn’t want to have to completely uninstall the Bluetooth software, so I dug a bit deeper and found a better option. Surprisingly, Dell still hasn’t updated their drivers with a fix for this issue.

What I found was a registry option that lets you disable the Bluetooth integration in the Office programs. It’s located under this key, where {Program} represents each of the different Office programs:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\{Program}\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1

Simply change the LoadBehavior key to 0, for each Office program, and the random crashes will go away. To do so, double-click the LoadBehavior key in the right window, overwrite the value with a 0, and click OK. For those requiring more details, I’ll provide in-depth directions at the end of this post.

The easiest way to find the necessary keys is to search for “BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1”. That should take you directly to each key you need to change. Make sure to hit the keys under the “Wow6432Node”, as well, if you’re running a 64-bit OS.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\{Program}\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1

Here’s a look at the keys I ended up changing. I also found a key for Visio, in a different area of the registry. So, using Find is probably your best bet for hitting all of the keys.

Location of some of the keys controlling the integration of Bluetooth with Office 2003.

Location of some of the keys controlling the integration of Bluetooth with Office 2003.

There you have it. A relatively simple fix for an extremely annoying issue. I’ll soon find out if the issue carries over to Office 2010 and 2013, as I have a few such deployments coming up on the EXX10 series of laptops. It seems like it was just a bit of sloppy coding on the Bluetooth developers part, but you never know, it may turn out that Office 2003 was at fault all along.

Step-By-Step Directions

As promised, here’s the step-by-step directions for finding and changing the LoadBehavior registry keys.

  • First, open RegEdit. To do so, click the Start button, then search for regedit in the search box. Alternatively, you can click the Run… button, and type in regedit.exe.
  • Highlight “Computer” at the top of the folder listing in the left pane.
  • Go to Edit, Find, type in “BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1” (without the quotes), then click Find Next.
  • Now close the Find window and press F3 to search for the next instance of the key, as needed. Not all keys will be appropriate. You want to look for keys located under known Microsoft programs, where a LoadBehavior key is present in the right pane.
When you've found one of the correct keys, it should look similar to this.

When you’ve found one of the correct keys, it should look similar to this.

  • Double-click on the LoadBehavior key in the right pane, change the 3 to a 0, the click OK.
To disable the Bluetooth add-in, change the 3 to a 0, then click OK.

To disable the Bluetooth add-in, change the 3 to a 0, then click OK.

  • Continue to search for other instances of the BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1 registry key, changing any located under an Office program’s Addins directory.
  • When you’re done, simply close the Registry Editor. You may have to restart your computer to apply the changes.

An Even Easier Solution

For those intimated by the Registry Editor, try this.

  • Create a new .txt file on your computer. Right-click on your desktop, go to New, then Text Document.
  • Name the file FixOfficeBluetooth.reg.
  • Right-click the file and choose Edit.
  • Copy the appropriate chunk of code from below, paste it into your new file, save it, then close it.
  • Double-click the file, read and respond to the security message that pops up, allowing the changes to the registry, and then you’re done.

Here is a basic set of registry keys. These should disable the Bluetooth add-in in most Office programs.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
 
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\Access\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\Excel\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\MS Project\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\Outlook\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\PowerPoint\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\Word\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Visio\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000

Here are the 64-bit equivalents of the keys above. If you’re running 64-bit Windows, then you should install these keys, in addition to the keys above. Create a new file with these keys, and run it separately.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
 
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\Access\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\Excel\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\MS Project\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\Outlook\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\PowerPoint\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\Word\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Visio\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000

If you only want to disable the Bluetooth module in the most problematic application, Excel, just install the following keys. Again, create new .reg files for each set of keys.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
 
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\Excel\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
 
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\Excel\Addins\BtOfficeAddin.BtOfficeIntegration.1]
"LoadBehavior"=dword:00000000