How to prevent PowerPoint file corruption

By Echo Swinford, Microsoft MVP and creator of EchosVoice.

Applies to
Microsoft Office PowerPoint® 2003
Microsoft PowerPoint 2000 and 2002

There are a number of ways to help prevent your PowerPoint files from becoming corrupt:

  • Never work from removable media.
  • Turn off Allow fast saves.
  • Save often and save well.
  • Make backups.
  • Practice good hard drive maintenance.
  • Zip files before sending though e-mail.

Never work from removable media

“Removable media” means anything that isn’t your hard drive. Floppy disks, CD-ROMs, Zip or Jaz disks, USB flash drives, network servers—any and all of the above are removable media, and if you value your work, you won’t save directly to them and will only use those media for transporting your files.

If you have a file that is stored on some kind of removable media, use Windows Explorer to copy the file to your hard drive, and then open and work on it from there. Don’t just open the file from the removable disk, work on it, and then save. When you’re finished working on the file from your hard drive, save the file to your hard drive, and then copy it to the removable media.

ShowFloppy Disk

When you work on a PowerPoint file, PowerPoint makes a temporary file in the background. If you are working directly from the floppy disk, there may not be—in fact, there probably won’t be—enough room for both the PowerPoint file and the temporary file. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive an error while you’re trying to save to the floppy disk, but what usually happens is that you find out there was a problem the next time you try to open the file, when you see a “part of the file is missing” error.

ShowCD-ROM

With some programs, you can create a “Direct CD” drive, which enables you to drag or copy and paste files to the CD, just like with any other disk or drive. Don’t do this. It’s quite common for the PowerPoint file to be unreadable the next time you try to open it. Instead, save the file to your hard drive, and then use your CD-burning software or the CD burning capability in Microsoft® Windows® XP to move the files to the CD.

I also suggest that you use CD-R instead of CD-RW for moving your PowerPoint files. Sometimes overwriting files a number of times can corrupt a CD-RW in general.

ShowZip or Jaz Disk

Although they have more room than floppy disks, the same warnings apply to Zip and Jaz disks. Because they’re larger than floppies, it’s more tempting to open a file directly from a Zip or Jaz disk, work on it, and then save it back to the disk. This is still not a good idea.

A few years ago, one of our slide techs was getting ready to move a file from the slide review computer to the actual show computer when she was asked to make some last-minute changes to the presentation. Because she was rushed, she opened the PowerPoint file from the Zip disk that it had been saved to for the transport, made changes, and saved. As she was saving, the computer crashed, and the file would not open when the computer restarted. She was lucky because she still had a copy of the original presentation on the computer’s hard drive. Not everyone will be so lucky.

ShowUSB Flash Drive

Also known as data thumbs, cigar drives, JumpDrives, pen drives, USB sticks, and USB keys, these little babies are sweet! They work like a really big floppy disk, but they plug into your computer’s USB port. To be honest, I’ve not heard of anyone actually losing PowerPoint files when working directly from one of these devices—but I don’t know that I want to take the chance on being the first, either.

Just two days ago, I managed to watch silently as a client opened a PowerPoint file from his hard drive, and then used the Save As command on the File menu to save the presentation directly to a data thumb. Although I bit my tongue while he did that, a second later I almost bit through it as he proceeded to remove the USB drive while the file was still open! This is a very good way to lose your work—in fact, it’s similar to the situation with the tech with the Zip disk. If you insist on saving to or working from removable media, at least don’t remove the media while your PowerPoint file is still open.

And actually, I’d also recommend not just pulling the USB drive from the USB port on the computer. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had people copy files to a USB drive for me, but when we plug the USB into my laptop, the file has vanished. It’s gone. Zapped. Nowhere to be found. It sure looked like it was there when it was copied to the USB drive, but it was simply not there once the USB drive was plugged into my machine.

Once, a client copied a folder with one small (200kb or so) PowerPoint file in it to the USB, but all I received was an empty folder! (That one made us wonder if we were all crazy.) We’ve discovered that if, after copying the files to the USB drive, we use the “safely remove hardware” utility (which magically appears on the Windows taskbar when you first plug in the USB drive), the files are safely copied. I know, I know, it sounds paranoid, but honest (!) I’ve seen this with my very own eyes. This has happened with multiple people, multiple USB drives, and multiple computers, though, so I know it’s not just an isolated incident.

I can easily imagine a scenario where someone saves a file directly to a USB drive without saving it to the hard drive, pulls out the USB drive without using the “safely remove hardware” utility, and loses the file altogether. Be smart and don’t let it happen to you.

ShowNetwork Servers

It’s very easy to work from your corporate server or shared drive, but it’s also very risky. If the network connection is disrupted in any way, you can lose your work. It has happened to me—don’t let it happen to you. Copy your file to your hard drive, work on it and save it there, and then copy it back to the server when you’re finished.

Turn off Allow fast saves

In my opinion, the Allow fast saves feature is a dinosaur left over from the early days of PowerPoint. It was needed then because PowerPoint files were often extremely large, and they could take ages to save. (I remember waiting once for 20 minutes for a PowerPoint 95 file to save.) Allow fast saves does save your file faster, but it also just appends your changes to your file. So you end up with a larger file until you use the Save As command on the File menu, which actually incorporates all the changes and rewrites the data in your file.

Turning off Allow fast saves can help prevent PowerPoint file corruption under certain circumstances, especially in versions of PowerPoint prior to 2002. I believe there’s really very little reason to leave it on, and turning it off certainly won’t hurt. On the Tools menu, click Options, click the Save tab, and then clear the Allow fast saves check box.

While you’re on that Save tab in the Options dialog box, take note of the option to Save AutoRecover info every XX minutes. This option creates temporary copies of your PowerPoint file every so many minutes so that if PowerPoint crashes, it may be able to retrieve some of your file. This option does not perform a regular save every so many minutes. Which takes me to…

Save Often and Save Well

We have a few users at my office who call the help desk and say, “I worked on this slide deck for four hours, but I closed it and forgot to save it. Can you get my work back?” <blink, blink> Wow. That’s a tough one. The answer is usually no. So if you’re prompted with “Do you want to save the changes you made?” when you close a file, think twice before clicking No, especially if you’ve never saved the file in the first place.

PowerPoint doesn’t have any kind of “autosave every XX minutes” feature. It’s up to you as a user to save your work regularly. Get into the habit of using CTRL+S or the Save command on the File menu every now and then. And, of course, when you save, be sure to save to your hard drive, not to removable media.

Make Backups

This should be a no-brainer, but for some reason, it’s not. In addition to “formal” backups that you make to a CD-ROM, backup tape, or another hard drive, you might consider creating your own “backup” copies of PowerPoint files as you work on them.

For instance, before you make a major change to a file, use the Save As command on the File menu to save the file with a new name—you might end up with MyFile1.ppt, MyFile2.ppt, and MyFile3.ppt. That way you always have a previous version to go back to while you’re working. Or use Sequential Save, a free add-in from Microsoft PowerPoint MVP Shyam Pillai, which makes this task much easier.

Practice Good Hard Drive Maintenance

Good hard drive maintenance can help your computer run more smoothly and cut down on file corruption as well. Standard practices include searching for and deleting .TMP files, emptying the Temporary Internet Files folder, and running a ScanDisk and defrag regularly.

Remember that slide tech who lost the file on the Zip drive when the computer crashed? We figured out later that the vendor from whom we’d borrowed the computer had never heard of deleting .TMP files. There were more than 500 MB (!!) of .TMP files on that system, which is probably why it crashed in the first place. Good maintenance could have helped avoid that situation altogether.

Zip Files Before Sending

Sending PowerPoint files as e-mail attachments sometimes corrupts them, although this doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often as it used to. I don’t know if that’s because of improvements in PowerPoint or in various e-mail clients or a combination of both.

As a precaution, you can use the built-in zip capability in Windows XP or a program such as WinZip to zip the files and then send that instead of the .PPT file. Although zipping is often associated with compressing the file size, if you’re using PowerPoint 97 or later, you probably won’t see much file size benefit; you will, however, be assured that your PowerPoint file arrives at the recipient intact.

In Conclusion

Preventing your PowerPoint files from becoming corrupted is not really difficult. Turn off Allow fast saves, and then use some common sense: don’t save to or work from removable media, make sure you use Save and Save As frequently, and maintain your hard drive regularly. And remember that zipping PowerPoint files before sending them can be used as an added precaution.

About the author: Echo Swinford is responsible for continuing medical education distance learning programs and enduring materials for Deborah Wood Associates, a medical education communications corporation in Carmel, Indiana. She maintains her own Web site, EchosVoice, and can usually be found in the newsgroups or engrossed in a cheap dime store thriller in her spare time.

 
 
Applies to:
PowerPoint 2003