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11/22/1999

Microsoft Story #84,613: Wash Your

Filed under:General — eric @ 10:06 am

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Microsoft Story #84,613: Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap

A friend of mine recently bought a new Gateway computer for his family. He’s a playwright and an English professor, and so does plenty of writing. The computer came pre-installed with Microsoft Word 97, which he was beginning to get comfortable with. He told me the other day that he was having a problem he needed help with — he was writing a script that contained a character with a mild potty mouth, but every time he wrote the “S-word”, it got instantly replaced with XXXX. What’s worse, in another script, a period piece with archaic English, MS Word would replace those four letters with XXXX even if they were parts of two different words, such as “‘Tis hit!”. These four letters show up surprisingly often in English of a few hundred years ago, and this was driving him crazy.

I thought it was a simple matter of setting the auto-correct feature in MS Word, that maybe cuss words were now censored by default. I told him how to disable the feature, or at least how to remove those letter combinations from the lists. He told me a few days later that it didn’t help, that even with auto-correct completely shut off he was still plagued with XXXXs in his scripts. I told him I’d gladly come over and take a look.

When I did, I found he was correct, that I had told him wrong. I scoured Word for some kind of “child protection” feature, but could find nothing anywhere. Out of curiosity more than anything, I opened WordPad and tried to type the word, and it was instantly replaced with XXXX. I opened NotePad, and again XXXX. I realized then that it was a global Windows 98 setting and had nothing at all to do with Word. In the control panel, I looked in Users, Accessibility Options, and anywhere else I could think to look for child protection features, and came up blank. Finally, I noticed that in the Start menu was the item “Log Off DEFAULT”. It struck me that in all the many times he and his family had booted up the computer since he bought it, no one had logged into Windows under their own name, that everyone was using the DEFAULT user.

I restarted Windows and logged in as “eric”. All of the XXXXing was gone, and I was free to type what I wished. I logged on again as DEFAULT, and censoring began anew. I gave him the solution, and he was happy.

I’ve now scoured the web for some mention of this “feature” but have found nothing. I tried logging on as DEFAULT on my own computer, and when Windows started I got an error (advpack not started — missing dll — something like that), so it seems that this may be something built in by Microsoft for some reason. The only thing I can guess is maybe it’s for store floor models so some kid can’t go leaving dirty graffiti on the screens. Of course, Gateway sells direct by mail-order, so that’s not an issue here.

Anyone ever heard of this before? Is this something for Risks Digest? Certainly, real professional work was being prevented by this seemingly undocumented feature. Let me know if I should have known about this before, and if it’s new to you, well, here you go. Interestingly, very few words were censored in this way. I could be plenty raunchy with nary an interference, but say the “S-word” or what CAP calls the “most foul of foul” words, and I was silenced.

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