Outlook reduces resolution and changes to 8bit color

When I start Outlook, suddenly my monitor switches to a lower resolution, pretty much all the color is gone and gives the window a “classic” look. Closing Outlook returns everything back to normal again.

What’s happening and how can I prevent this from happening?

There are a couple of reasons why this could occur. Most often it is caused by a corruption the Windows theme. Less common causes are that the application has been set to run in Compatibility Mode or High Contrast mode is enabled. Updating your video card driver might work in same cases and in very specific cases, it is the SMS display driver (from Microsoft System Management Server) that causes this.

Retro look of Outlook 2007
Being forced to work with Outlook like this gets old quite quickly.

Reset the Windows Theme

This is an easy fix which applies to most cases; change you theme back to the default theme that Windows shipped with;

  • Windows XP
    Right click an empty spot on the Desktop-> Properties-> tab Themes-> Windows XP
  • Windows Vista
    Right click an empty spot on the Desktop-> Personalize-> section Theme-> Windows Vista
  • Windows 7
    Right click an empty spot on the Desktop-> Personalize-> Aero Themes-> Windows 7
    (or select Basic and High Contrast Themes-> Windows 7 Basic)

Compatibility Mode

Right click the shortcut that you open Outlook with-> choose Properties-> tab Compatibility
Make sure no options are selected here such as Run in 256 colors and run in 640 x 480 screen resolution.

High Contrast Mode

If for some reason your Windows settings got set to High Contrast Mode, you can change it back by pressing;
Left ALT + left SHIFT + Print Screen on your keyboard.

If this makes the problem even worse, then that wasn’t it. You can press the key combination again to switch back again.

Updating the video card driver

Running an older video card driver could cause this issue as well. Updating it to the latest version might solve it. If the issue started after recently updating the video card driver, switch back to the previous version of the driver and contact support of the video card (driver) manufacturer.

SMS Display driver or other virtual display adapters

If you are in a managed environment, it could be that something is installed which allows network administrators to take over your screen or to “join your session” so they can see what you are seeing when they are trying to offer support. In some cases, this requires the installation of a display mirror driver and could interfere with the actual video card driver.

In these cases, it is best to contact your network administrator about the issue. He/she can either update the display driver, update the display mirror driver or disable it until a solution is found for the driver. More about mirror driver can be found here and here.

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