Outlook 2016 "processing" bug

Let me tell you about an infuriating bug. It is pointless and stupid and represents Microsoft carelessness at its worst. It has existed for at least six months. It only affects a few people, but those people have no good way to discover how to fix it. I can find no pattern to explain when it appears. I’ve probably run into it 15 or 20 times in the last six months, including some people who have experienced it more than once.

As near as I can tell, it happens to people who have Office 2016, licensed through a business Office 365 subscription. At some point an update is installed. The Office updates are unpredictable, completely untethered from any day of the week, and we are given no warning when they are going to be installed.

The next time Outlook is started, the splash screen appears, add-ins are loaded, and the window says “Processing.”

Outlook "processing"

And that’s where it stops. It’s stuck. You can close the window by clicking the X and restart it and it will do the same thing. You can leave it that way for hours. You can restart the computer. Nothing will make Outlook get past the “processing” screen.

If you’re lucky, you will call your calm and professional IT consultant and he’ll answer the phone instead of being off on a trip to Alta for the first sunny days of skiing after a month of solid snow, finding powder and cutting fresh tracks through the trees and making excited whooping noises.

Hang on, I got distracted.

If you’re lucky, you will call your calm and professional IT consultant and he will sigh and say, I know this one.


What to do when Outlook is stuck on “Processing”

Click on the Start button and type in:

outlook.exe /safe

Or, hold the Ctrl key down and click on the Outlook icon on your task bar.

You will be starting Outlook in Safe Mode. It may ask you to confirm your mail profile (the choice it presents is usually correct).

In a moment, you will see this screen.


“First things first. This product also comes with Office Automatic Updates. (Accept)”

When you click “Accept,” Outlook will start. You fixed it.

Close Outlook, then restart it normally. It will be completely fine.

WARNING: This may not work for you. Try it. No harm done if it doesn’t work. There are other things that can break Outlook and maybe you have a different problem. Microsoft has a long list of troubleshooting tips for Outlook when it has problems. Good luck!



Yup. You thought Outlook was broken and you practically threw your computer out the window because a license agreement – a redundant, pointless license agreement – didn’t come to the front when it was supposed to. And it’s been going on for six months. At least six months. That’s when I started to run into it and here’s someone who wrote an article about it in July 2016.

Microsoft does this to itself. I have no idea why they think Office updates require that we click “Accept” on a new license agreement screen. We’ve clicked on buttons to accept updates during the installation of the Office programs ever since Office 2010. But putting it out there in a way that makes Outlook unusable, with a solution that non-technical people have absolutely no hope of figuring out with any combination of poking and restarting and clicking – well, maybe it’s a full employment act for IT departments but frankly I would just as soon go out of business.

It’s sloppy and it’s unforgiveable. It probably won’t happen to you. But if it does, you’ll lose even more trust in Microsoft, and I still believe that Microsoft may not recover from losing our trust.

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