Yet another Recent Items problem in Office

 

Not long ago a user of an Office 2013 Pro Plus product, licensed over Office 365 subscription has reported that her Recent Items list was thoroughly obsolete.

Here is how and why my research was extended over hours as well as how you can circumvent the problem (for the latter jump straight to the end of this article).

Historically for the user in question Office 2013 Pro Plus was installed via the click-to-run option in Office 365 roughly half a year ago. Two-three months later she “lost” her Recent Items list (it was completely empty). Now she “lost” the list once again, this time reversing to the then lost list.

Upon that in both cases she could very well see her currently opened / edited document items from the Jump List. She could as well see her recent items from the Recent shortcut under her user profile. So where did Office get the obsolete information from?

A step back for clarification is needed:

The Jump List is the one that is opened with right mouse click on the application icon if it is pinned on the taskbar. See details here. Its paths and structure are described here. It was intact in our case.

The Recent shortcut is leading to %APPDATA% \Microsoft\Windows\Recent which contains a chronological list of links to open files and folders. It was intact in our case as well.

But the Recent Items shown from within an Office application, when you go through File / Open, is NOT hanging on the above mentioned two lists. Instead it is using its own information from the current user registry in a key that always includes the magic MRU. I won’t go into details as of why and how this has historically evolved; you can read its beginning here. BUT what is more important it has changed its path and behavior from Office 2010 to Office 2013 (and probably 2016).

As of Office 2007 and 2010 the paths were (more info here)

  • HKCU \Software\Microsoft\Office\version\application\File MRU
  • HKCU \Software\Microsoft\Office\version\application\Recent Files

Where version was 12.0 for Office 2007, 14.0 for Office 2010 and application was Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

In Office 2013 click-to-run installation new paths appeared:

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\application\User MRU\Prefix_ID\File MRU
  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\application\User MRU\Prefix_ID\Place MRU

This comes from the new Office “Sign in” feature where a user can login to multiple Microsoft private or business online services. The most interesting part is Prefix_ID. If you for example want to connect to your private OneDrive, after a successful sign in a subkey with a prefix LiveId_ followed by a hash or GUID is created. AD_<GUID> and OrgId_<GUID> come when you are enrolling through Active Directory or when the user signs in to Office 365 respectively. Here some background.

A step forward to the problem:

Upon investigation it turned out that the person in question had both AD_<GUID> and OrgId_<GUID>. In the one was her current working items list, in the other the outdated. I could find a reason for having two registry keys – the click-to-run installation was deployed with AD GPO policy from a local network share, BUT I could not find a reason why the user was switched from the one context to the other, because she was always “Signed In” to ONLY one Office 365 account. Since I didn’t know how to influence Offices “decision” as to what user context to select (AD_ or OrgId_), I had to find another ways to outsmart it. Unluckily you cannot use HKCU:\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\application\File MRU because it is not considered by design.

The only way I found so far is to delete the values under File MRU and Place MRU outdated subkeys and then add the values from the current subkeys.

This can be done manually – exporting as REG file, editing with your favorite text editor and then importing back (the way I did it) – or (the way I would do it if I had more time to script instead of write articles ;-D ) creating a PowerShell script that “syncs” the most current values.

Have fun scripting!

 

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