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Cross Platform PowerPoint Compatibility

Author: Geetesh Bajaj

Date Created: November 26th 2008
Last Updated: June 14th 2012

...Continued from Page 1

Follow these Guidelines

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.



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.


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