Cross Platform PowerPoint Compatibility

By Geetesh Bajaj

Learn the essentials for sharing PowerPoint 2007 files between a computer running Windows and an Apple Macintosh.

Applies to:
PowerPoint 2007

Do you work on PowerPoint for Windows, and often need to share presentations with someone who uses a Mac? Or do you work in a cross platform environment where both Windows and Mac machines exist? Or maybe, you have one of those new Macs that allow you to boot to both Windows and Mac OSs – and you want your PowerPoint presentations to look, play, and print the same all the time – irrespective of whether you are using a computer running Windows or a Mac.

Cross-platform hiccups happen for more than one reason – it’s not unusual for the same company to have both Windows and Mac machines, or there might be a requirement to create an important presentation that needs to be compatible with whatever platform a client has. It might be that the designer hired to create a presentation or a template might use a Mac when the presenter is using a Windows machine – or even vice versa. Regardless, the differences between the Windows and Mac versions of PowerPoint have been giving presenters a fair share of problems.

Whatever your requirement for cross platform compatibility may be, let me first share some good news with you: the file formats for PowerPoint files are the same on computers using Windows and Mac OSs. Here’s more info on the file formats:

  • The new versions of PowerPoint for Windows and Mac are PowerPoint 2007 and PowerPoint 2008 respectively – they both save presentation files to the PPTX file format. They can also save to the older PPT file format but that could mean losing out on some of the new features in PowerPoint 2007 and 2008.
  • All eight previous versions (four each for Windows and Mac) use the older PPT file format. These previous versions are:
    • Windows: PowerPoint 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003
    • Mac: PowerPoint 98, 2001, X, and 2004
  • In some cases, it is possible to download an update that lets some of the older versions of PowerPoint save and read PPTX files.

Most of the incompatibilities between Windows and Mac versions of PowerPoint emanate from the way the program is built inside the OS. While PowerPoint for Windows takes advantage of all the media abilities built inside Windows such as media play-lists, PowerPoint for the Mac similarly uses features like QuickTime built at the Mac OS level. This does mean that there are some incompatibilities that cannot be overcome. Fortunately, these incompatibilities can be easily avoided in the first place with a better understanding of prospective problem areas that I shall explore in the rest of this article.

Most of the problem areas for compatibility reasons can be sorted category-wise – go ahead and refer to a particular category if you need a quick solution, or read the information provided in all categories if you want to be aware and prepared to tackle any incompatibilities you may encounter in the future.

The Essentials You Should Know

Start with a folder: First of all, I suggest that you stop thinking presentations and start thinking folders. Whichever platform you use, the first thing you need to do is create an empty folder for every presentation you create. Then copy all linked content into that folder, including pictures, sounds and movie files – even before the item is inserted as a link within the PowerPoint. If you need to link to Word documents, Excel sheets, PDFs, or other documents – copy them all to this folder before you create links to them from your PowerPoint slides.

Update your program: Keep your PowerPoint updated: Make sure you have the latest service packs for Microsoft Office installed. Several compatibility issues are resolved in these updates. For Windows check out http://www.microsoft.com/powerpoint and Mac users can look at http://www.microsoft.com/mac

Upgrade to the current versions: Always consider moving up to a more current version of PowerPoint. Versions 2007 for Windows and 2008 for Mac are the current versions at the time of writing – and have fewer compatibility issues than previous versions.

Make friends with the Compatibility Checker: PowerPoint 2008 for the Mac includes the Compatibility Report option (View | Compatibility Report) – this checks the open presentation for compatibility issues with profiles of all versions of PowerPoint on Windows and Mac – right back to PowerPoint 97 and 98 – it then tells you exactly what features may be compromised, and what will not work.

PowerPoint 2007 has a similar Compatibility Checker that can be accessed from Office Button | Prepare | Run Compatibility Checker – but this option only looks at compatibility issues with older versions of PowerPoint on Windows – there’s no reporting on problems with Mac versions of PowerPoint.

No Editing, Full Viewing: While many PowerPoint creators try to keep cross-platform presentations simple to avoid compatibility issues, keep in mind this isn't as restrictive as it sounds. Newer versions of PowerPoint on both platforms may not allow the editing of certain features, but will allow these features to be viewed in slideshow mode. A good example of this is the Motion Path animations in PowerPoint for Windows – while PowerPoint 2004 and 2008 on the Mac will not allow you to add or edit motion path animations, they will still play them.

Follow these Guidelines

There are some guidelines that you can follow when you are creating PowerPoint presentations intended to be viewed or edited on both Windows and Mac versions of PowerPoint. I have sorted these guidelines into broad categories.

Basic Guidelines

  • Keep things simple – and use PowerPoint’s drawing tools to create shapes and drawings rather than using content from a third party application.
  • And always think folders rather than presentations – create a new folder for every presentation you create – this folder should contain the actual presentation, and any linked files such as sound and movie files, other linked documents, etc. Make sure nothing is contained in sub-folders – keep everything within one folder.

Working with Media

  • Always use industry standard media formats that are not too platform specific: stay away from WindowsMedia and QuickTime file formats – use MPEG videos. Similarly, use DRM-free MP3s rather than WindowsMedia audio or iTunes songs or files.
  • When you link a narration or sound file in PowerPoint for Windows, you can still hear the audio in PowerPoint for Mac. But the opposite is not true. PowerPoint for Windows cannot play back any linked narrations and sound recorded in Macintosh versions since Apple computers use the QuickTime AIFF format to store the recordings, and also does not include the AIFF file extension. Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows does not have a clue about what these files are!
  • If you need to move a sound file recorded in PowerPoint for Mac to a Windows machine, embed the audio file as part of the presentation. Luckily, PowerPoint on both platforms will embed audio files by default, unless you choose to change the settings (within the Record Narration dialog box) linking the audio file instead.
  • ActiveX is the same Windows-based technology that allows you to play Adobe Flash and Director movies inside Internet Explorer and other applications, including PowerPoint. ActiveX is a Microsoft technology and is not available on the Mac platform. What this means is if you insert Flash movies into a presentation using PowerPoint for Windows, the Flash files will not play on the Mac.

Text and Fonts

  • Use fonts that can be found as standard on Windows and Mac – these include Arial, Times New Roman, Courier New, Verdana, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS, etc. PowerPoint 2007 and 2008 can also use the new fonts such as Calibri.
  • Also remember that Windows versions of PowerPoint can embed TrueType fonts within a presentation. But these embedded fonts cannot be seen by Mac versions of PowerPoint.
  • Some OpenType fonts, particularly from Adobe's Pro font collection, will show without problems in both PowerPoint for Windows and PowerPoint 2001 (X) for Mac. However, these OpenType fonts don't always work within PowerPoint 2004 or 2008 for Mac.
  • Don’t space out your text too tightly – font rendering differences may add an extra line to a text box on either Windows or Mac versions of PowerPoint.

Pictures and Graphics

  • On the Mac, avoid using PICT graphics – on both OS platforms, GIF, PNG, and JPG work best. For illustrations, use WMF or EMF files.
  • The Mac versions of PowerPoint ship with special photo effects that were originally part of Microsoft's disbanded PhotoDraw program on the Windows side. Regardless, any Mac presentation file that contains images with these effects can be moved to any version of PowerPoint for Windows and all the special effects will remain intact. The only caveat is that you cannot apply these effects to images once the presentation has been moved into a Windows version of PowerPoint.

Everything Else

  • Most embedded objects in PowerPoint presentations created on Windows do not translate well within a Mac version of PowerPoint. For instance, if an embedded Word document or Excel spreadsheet has accentuated characters, these may not appear in a cross-platform presentation. Rather than embedding these files (Word, Excel, PDF, etc.), use hyperlinks to link them to the presentation file. Make sure these files remain in the same folder as the PowerPoint presentation.
  • Some file formats (such as Microsoft Visio and CAD) may not translate well. In these cases, you can often convert the files to an image or PDF file within their native applications. These newly converted files can then be linked into the PowerPoint file, and will be recognized and displayed correctly on either platform.
  • Microsoft Word tables and Excel spreadsheets pasted inside PowerPoint can cause cross-platform problems. Either redo the table using PowerPoint's native table engine, or create a link to the Word or Excel document. This is not as much an issue between PowerPoint 2007 for Windows and PowerPoint 2008 for Mac – but can be a problem in earlier versions on both OSs.
  • Visual Basic (VBA) remains the best programming solution for cross-platform PowerPoint developers. But for those who like to play with PowerPoint's programming options using Visual Basic, the Mac versions are a big disappointment. PowerPoint 2004 for Mac has VBA 5, and some programming features that exist in the newest versions for Windows are missing from the Mac version. PowerPoint 2008 for Mac has no VBA support at all although Microsoft has confirmed that VBA support will be back for the next release of PowerPoint on the Mac.
  • Remember some features don’t work on both platforms – Mac versions of PowerPoint still don’t have motion path animations – although they can show you motion path animations in presentations created on Windows – you still cannot edit them though.
  • Be aware that color gamma differences between both platforms mean presentation colors created on a Windows machine appear lighter on a Mac. This is not an issue that can be solved within PowerPoint; it is a platform issue.

Conclusion

While it’s great to be aware of issues, and know what workarounds exist – do remember that these guidelines only approach the common issues. Even then, there are no known workarounds for some of these issues. It’s best that you check your presentations on both OSs before you deploy them – that way, you’ll get a better understanding of what features may cause incompatibilities.


Photo of Geetesh Bajaj Geetesh Bajaj is based in Hyderabad, India, and he got started with his first PowerPoint presentation more than a decade ago. He has been working with PowerPoint ever since. Geetesh believes that any presentation is a sum of its elements. Everything in a presentation can be broken down to this element level, and PowerPoint’s real power lies in its ability to act as glue for all such elements. Geetesh contributes regularly to journals and Web sites, and has authored two other PowerPoint books. He’s also a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) and a regular on Microsoft’s PowerPoint newsgroups. Geetesh’s own Web site at Indezine.com has thousands of pages on PowerPoint usage. It also has a blog, an e-zine, product reviews, free templates and interviews

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Applies to:
PowerPoint 2007