Microsoft Fixes Outlook Email Bug

Posted on May 12, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Office 365, Microsoft 365, Office with 23 Comments

Yesterday, users of the Outlook desktop application noticed that many emails were displaying as blank pages. Microsoft has already fixed the issue.

“We’re investigating an issue with email message visibility in Outlook,” Microsoft tweeted of the problem yesterday. “Outlook on the web appears to be unaffected.”

Over the course of the past 24 hours, that status changed from Microsoft identifying the root cause of the bug, which is related to a Patch Tuesday update error. But by very early Wednesday, the problem was fixed, and users can update Outlook directly and restart the application.

“We’ve finished the deployment of our fix and we’ve confirmed via monitoring and user reports that the issue has been mitigated,” Microsoft announced at the time.

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Comments (23)

23 responses to “Microsoft Fixes Outlook Email Bug”

  1. MikeCerm

    I spent about a little over an hour troubleshooting this issue for a client, before realizing it was a bug that simply could not be fixed. It really made my think about how every time Microsoft does something like this -- introduces a bug that results in hours of support calls -- there is an immeasurable economic cost. This was a small one. Two months ago, I had hundreds of people calling me because their computer would crash every time they printed to their Kyocera printer. It was literally all I did for several days. So much wasted time because of a botched update (and a poorly written driver from Kyocera). It's just amazing to think of the enormous worldwide impact of such a small thing.

    • bluvg

      I sometimes wonder what is the total number of hours of my life lost to this kind of stuff (although somehow we weren't affected by this one).

      A bug that breaks the simple ability nearly worldwide to view text in an email... this is the type of thing that gives me pause about the promise autonomous driving and other kinds of AI. I'm still hopefuly, though it seems also like a way for bad things to happen much faster and with greater impact when they do.

      This interview with Jim Keller (Jim Keller: The Future of Computing, AI, Life, and Consciousness | Lex Fridman Podcast #162 - YouTube) is absolutely fascinating. He talks about AI understanding Physics on a new level our brains cannot (dimensional thinking limitations, etc.), and how that's perhaps like the 6th level of Physics understanding--but there's no reason to think the 6th level is the limit. So, you could have an AI that gains a 7th/8th/etc. level of understanding, when we're unable to get past level 5. Verifying that is a very interesting problem itself. Fascinating and frightening.

  2. ekim

    I wasted several hours yesterday on this issue. What was maddening about it was it was not happening on all devices. On a positive note Microsoft rolled out their cloud storage for Outlook settings today. I hope it finally resolves one of my biggest complaints about rolling out new workstations - migrating custom settings in Outlook like signatures, stationary, rules, views etc. I guess we'll see if it truly works right the first time.

  3. microsoftisaboatonfirewithaholeinit

    Anyone know if it was a security patch or feature add/patch that broke it? And what channels are affected?

    There is no info from MS on those questions. Our patches roll to test tomorrow (were downloaded via sccm on Tuesday). Need to know the answers to those questions to figure out if we need to refresh/restart our patch cycle on this - at this point, known issue- before it impacts our % of prod that are test users.

  4. bleeman

    This is one of the reasons prior to my retirement I had all my clients setup with WSUS or something similar and then always delayed updates by one or two weeks, with the exception of critical security updates. Then I would check with my peers and on the web and when no one was reporting issues I'd release the updates. Saved me a lot of grief. Now I've been retired for 3.5 years so not sure what options you have these days to manage updates.

    • huddie

      Your strategy was a good one. However, what's happened since your retirement is Microsoft now bundle all monthly patches into Cumulative Updates. So, there's no way to separately identify and deploy the critical ones. They're also doggedly continuing their unethical strategy of not fully internally testing products and updates before release, leaving it to those customers who get them when they come out to report problems and do the bulk of the troubleshooting. This effectively makes them beta testers as well as paying customers.

  5. eric_rasmussen

    This is the problem with continuous delivery. Why bother testing something much when you can just release another patch if anything goes wrong?

  6. winner

    Microsoft's crack QC software team at work again.

    Oh, wait...

  7. SAPaleAle

    Made for a fun morning yesterday. Was working on the first one and was about 45 minutes in waiting for windows update to finish decided to do a quick google to see if this was an broader issue. Articles about this issue showed up so I knew it wasn't just me. Luckily one of the results had a relatively easy work around that got outlook up and running.

  8. winbookxl2

    I had all of our clients call about this issue today and yesterday. I advised them to visit the Outlook Web client instead since I exhausted all trouble shooting methods.

  9. train_wreck

    I would love Gartner or someone to do a cloud reliability report. Rank the major cloud providers based not only on how many outages they have, but also the severity of the outages and the speed and quality of the providers’ responses to the outages.

  10. buzzmodo

    Real PITA, I spent a couple of hours trying to troubleshoot this... Asked Microsoft, no reply! Bad form!

  11. matsan

    BaaS = Bugs as a Service

  12. red.radar

    The joys of continuous delivery.

    It was not a fun feeling. Something broke... wait is it me or them... lots of confusion and thrashing.

  13. bettyblue

    Not shocking at all.

    Our company in October of 2019 renewed our 3 year Enterprise agreement and finally decided to move to Office 365. We started the migration around Feb of 2020 and we are still migrating our users from On-Prem Exchange, file servers to Sharepoint, home drives to OneDrive and Skype for Business users to Teams. We will finally be done next month after moving just over 5K users.

    We rarely, if ever, had an outage on-prem that was not planned before doing this. It has been a SHOCK to our users how many outages we have had with Office 365 over the last year. I can bascially go into the Admin Center and check the health any day and something is broken in Office 365.

    Good thing its!

    • train_wreck

      I have a client of mind who is looking quite seriously at bringing back some of their on-prem servers because of all of the O365 outages. At some point, when you start having outages every month, that idea starts to sound more and more reasonable.

      But sure, something something chicken little luddite cloud hater (is what I’m sure some will say to that.)

  14. mattbg

    I ran into this one as well. I was able to work around it by going to the web app. I'm guessing it only happened for e-mails that had not been cached by the client, because most recent e-mails continued to show full content and it wasn't until I went to follow up on an e-mail from months ago that I ran into the issue.

  15. rmlounsbury

    In the realm of bugs I never expected from M365; breaking the ability to open and read emails from Outlook desktop was not one I expected. Fortunately following the Microsoft 365 Status + Health Updates in the admin portal got me clued in on the issue pretty quick.

    It sure feels like these types of bugs are becoming more common.

    • mikegalos

      This is one of the costs of software prices being pushed down to nearly nothing by companies who consider software a cost center designed to raise their advertising business profit center.

      That's also why you don't get physical manuals and why online manuals and online help files are vastly less thorough than they used to be.

      Testing, documentation and support all cost money and only so much can be absorbed when revenue is being artificially driven down by predatory companies not actually expecting to cover costs.

      • samp

        I actually find Microsoft's documentation on their website pretty good for most things.

        • bluvg

          I have to say, it's gotten much better recently. The feedback section for most pages is also really helpful--the community input definitely has corrected/refined a lot of wrong info. Most of the docs have date stamps also (not having a date stamp on these is a HUGE pet peeve of mine).

  16. bls

    I was pretty surprised and annoyed when my message text all disappeared. Luckily I had a brainstorm to check and found the magic incantation to install the last known good version, which solved the problem.

    Good to know that it's safe to update again.