Office 2003 documents opening as “read-only” from MOSS 2007 document libraries

A few months back I lead an effort to put to rest a customer issue whereby Office 2003 documents would open from MOSS 2007 document libraries as “read-only”.  When “Edit in Microsoft Word” was selected from the document context menu, the document would show up in Word but the “(Read Only)” was added to the title bar.  When the user attempted to save the document, they were prompted with a Save As dialog asking them to specify a different location and/or file name because the current status was set to read-only.

The contents of the Open and Save dialog boxes were also showing signs of a problem.  The file lists in these dialog boxes which normally rendered the WSS document library were blank.

Even more perplexing was the fact that Office 2003 applications worked fine the first time they were invoked and used with a document library.  Files would open as read-write in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint and stayed that way if you kept that first instance of Word alive by closing the document instead of the application.  The Open and Save dialog boxes also rendered correctly.  But once the application closed, the behavior reverted to the “(Read Only)” condition on subsequent instances.

To top everything off, this did not happen on every workstation in the enterprise.  It is one of the most managed enterprises I have ever worked were all changes are tracked in detail.  When I did a comparison of DLL's between a workstation with the issue vs. one without there was no difference.

We went through the all of the steps in a standard troubleshooting whitepaper.  I used Fiddler to diagnose the SSL traffic from the client and identified a difference in traffic patterns between the First Use and Subsequent Use scenarios.  It is easy to summarize weeks of effort in a couple sentences, but so many approaches were tested and several engineers in Microsoft Premier Support (CSS) were helpful in providing us guidance to rule out possible causes.

As I spent a few hours researching based on the Fiddler and Process Monitor traces, I discovered that it was not normal wininet traffic that was being attempted by Word.  After digging deeper, I discovered that a registry key existed on the workstations experiencing the read-only issue.

Affected systems had a HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Shared Tools\Web Server Extensions\Web Extender Client\wecctlflags key which was set to a value of 2.  This key existed for older versions of Microsoft FrontPage (2000) which used their own component for internet communications called stsnwi.dll.  The wecctlflags key enabled FrontPage to bypass the standard wininet Windows component and use stsnwi for debugging and troubleshooting purposes.  The stsnwi.dll is no longer shipped as a component of any product but it appears Office 2003 applications still have a check for the wecctlflags registry key and attempts to use stsnwi.dll if the value is set (usually at 2).  When the application is unable to load the DLL it performs a silent fail which results in a blank details Open and Save dialog boxes and documents opening as “read only”.

The wecctlflags key can be safely deleted from the Windows registry.  If working with the registry is not something you are comfortable with or not experienced doing, then take appropriate precautions.  Backup the registry and make sure you have a recent backup handy.  Or seek a qualified IT professional to assist you.

We have not tested against Office 2007 applications in this environment as the registry key has since been eliminated from the workstation population.