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PowerPoint Version Hell

When you gain something, you almost always also gain something unwanted as well. That something is Version Hell!


Date Created: October 1st 2008

See Also: Cross Platform PowerPoint

Software makers release new versions of their products all the time -- and each version upgrade adds an updated file format that can no longer be opened by users of previous versions. This makes sure that users upgrade all the time -- and it's easier for the software maker too since they don't have to find workarounds for users of previous versions.

Microsoft doesn't work that way -- they make sure that users of older versions can still open new and improved file formats -- this approach is laudable but it's not without its share of problems -- these problems have been more rampant than usual in the case of PowerPoint. While it was already a tough task moving PowerPoint presentations between Windows and Mac machines, now it's downright difficult moving between PowerPoint 2007 for Windows and users of older Windows versions of PowerPoint. Welcome to PowerPoint Version Hell!

Template Terror
Charting Concerns
Cross Platform PowerPoint


If you have are still working with PowerPoint 2003, and work in a mixed environment where some users have upgraded to PowerPoint 2007, you know that it’s no easy task working with presentations that have been opened, edited, and saved on both versions. The opposite is also true. If you are using PowerPoint 2007, and need to share files with users who are still working on PowerPoint 2003 (or even older versions), you know that there have been some unhappy times!

And if you really haven’t noticed any issues while working with different PowerPoint versions, then you are absolutely lucky – but even then, make sure you are aware of the possible pitfalls.

Now, let us look at another part of this version story that spans across OS platforms – with file issues, link problems, and media maladies that stem from viewing and editing PowerPoint presentations created on Windows on the Mac – or even vice versa. Everything isn’t too well on that front too.

All these issues can be placed under a common umbrella that I’ll call Version Hell – and while it’s no fun being under this umbrella, life can be much more uncomplicated if you are aware of these problems, and ready to look at workarounds and best practices. You might have noticed that I never promised any solutions – that’s because very few of them exist – most of the time, you’ll have to look at workarounds for existing content, and plan with best practices for any new slides you create. As goes the famous saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Version Hell can raise its head at a time you least expect it to show up – and many times, there’s nothing much you can do. However, I don’t expect you to pray, and fully recommend that you be prepared for any such situation. That calls for a two pronged approach.

First, be aware of the common problem areas.
And secondly, follow a set of guidelines all the time.

Let me first show you the main problem areas. In exploring these, I decided to categorize them into three distinct areas:

  • Template Issues between PowerPoint 2003 and 2007
  • Charting Issues between PowerPoint 2003 and 2007
  • Cross Platform Issues between PowerPoint on Windows and Mac


Template Terror

It’s quite apt that this is named template terror. What else would you call it when your masters gets deleted, multiple masters become hundreds of slide layouts, and you end up with something that doesn’t work within PowerPoint 2003 or 2007?

As one my friends explained it: Huge client makes a move to PowerPoint 2007 -- needs all their templates and presentations updated for 2007 using new layouts, charts, and tables (and needs them all to work in PowerPoint 2003 as well)! Cannot go backwards, layouts become many, many masters and charts lose the wow factor. Version Hell raises its head yet again.

The workaround for this is actually quite simple – so simple that some would call it blunt. As far as possible, create a separate set of templates and prototype presentations for PowerPoint 2007 and 2003 (and earlier). Use multiple masters for version 2003 and earlier sets, and slide layouts for version 2007. Also, if you also need to use these templates on PowerPoint for Mac, be aware that 2003 and earlier on Windows roughly translates to 2004 and earlier on the Mac. Similarly 2007 on Windows is the file format equivalent of 2008 on the Mac. Ignore this approach, and you’ll have a nightmare sorting out the hell you’ll be in!

Also, if there are some important presentations that are shown by large groups using different versions of PowerPoint – make sure you keep separate PPT and PPTX versions of them. This will make sure that you are prepared for any situation.

To a certain extent, smaller groups working with a very simple template (one slide master, no title master) and simple slides may relax these rules. In that case, working in both versions might be possible. But again in that case, your templates and master need to use the PowerPoint 203 PPT and POT file formats, and version 2007 users will have to work in compatible mode. This might alleviate some issues, but it still will only address the template terror in version hell – you are still prone to other version problems. Evolve your simple template with a single master to something that includes a title master, or heaven forbid multiple masters – and you are again on the highway to version hell.

So, if you make the template in PowerPoint 2007, will it be okay in PowerPoint 2003? How about making it in PowerPoint 2003 – will it work in PowerPoint 2007? Short answer: if you make the template in 2007, you may have some oddities with title slides in 2003. If you make the template in 2003, the color scheme will not be right in 2007. It’s best to make the 2007 template in 2007 and the 2003 template in 2003.


Charting Concerns

Charting concerns are not as terrible as template terrors – even then I’ll put them on a close second rank since many presentations that belong to the PowerPoint 2003 and earlier era have charts that were created using the Microsoft Graph component. Enter version 2007, and the amazing improvements in charts stemmed from the fact that Excel 2007 rather than Graph was doing the charting.

I need to add here that if you have PowerPoint 2007 installed without Excel 2007 on your system, you’ll still get to use Microsoft Graph. That could be an advantage if you need to share chart slides with users who are still using PowerPoint 2003 or earlier. However, for the rest of this content, I’ll assume that you are using Excel 2007 as the charting component for PowerPoint 2007, and Microsoft Graph as the charting component in PowerPoint 2003 – that’s the default, and I don’t find an easy way to change that option.

Some users report error messages about open dialog boxes in Excel when the try to insert a new chart in PowerPoint 2007 – most of the time, running the Office Diagnostics option in Office Button | PowerPoint Options | Resources resolves the issue. This, and other similar issues may result from some broken registry entries between 2007 versions of PowerPoint and Excel as far as charting is concerned – running Office Diagnostics is therefore a good idea even if you run into a similar, unrelated issue.

A majority of charting problems stem from the fact that PowerPoint 2007 prompts you to convert, convert all, or edit existing charts when you try to edit a chart that was created in PowerPoint 2003 or earlier using Microsoft Graph. If you need to share these slides with users of older versions of PowerPoint, make sure you choose the Edit Existing option. In fact, you can change the default behavior in PowerPoint 2007 to Edit Existing by using a registry key edit explained by PowerPoint MVP Steve Rindsberg.

Create this key in the registry (registry editing is not recommended for the faint hearted – always keep a backup of your system before attempting any registry edit):

  • Quit PowerPoint 2007 if it's running.
  • Choose Start Menu | Run (in Windows XP) or Start Menu | All Programs |  Accessories | Run (in Windows Vista) and type in “regedit” without the quotes to open the Registry Editor.
  • Navigate to this folder in the registry: HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Software/Microsoft/Office/12.0/Common/Charting/
  • Click on Charting, right-click and choose New | DWORD Value.
  • Registry Editor now inserts a new value, and leaves it highlighted for you to rename.
  • Type in “MSGraphEnable” without the quotes. If you clicked off the new value, you'll need to rightclick it and choose Rename, then type the new name.
  • Now doubleclick the MSGraphEnable value and set the data value to 1 in the dialog box that appears.
  • Click OK to close the dialog box then quit Registry Editor.

This change in the registry results in new behaviors in PowerPoint 2007 as far as charting is concerned:

  • PowerPoint will no longer convert existing Microsoft Graph charts to Microsoft Excel 2007 charts – nor will it prompt you to do so when you try to edit one by double-clicking.
  • Inserting a new chart via the Insert options, or by clicking the chart icon in a content placeholder will result in a Microsoft Graph chart that you can share with users of pre-2007 versions of PowerPoint.
  • PowerPoint 2007 will also retain Microsoft Graph charts if you choose the Office Button | Convert option to create a PPTX file from a PPT file.

If you edit a 2007 chart in 2003, you lose the colors. Maybe something to note for users.

Updated information on this technique can be always found at: http://www.pptfaq.com/FAQ00872.htm

To restore the charting options to Excel 2007, just delete the DWORD key you created.


Cross Platform PowerPoint

PowerPoint started life as a Mac program that was acquired by Microsoft, which continued creating a Mac version of PowerPoint along with Windows versions. Somewhere along the way, maybe around version 4 – both the Mac and Windows versions started drifting a little as far as the feature set and media support was concerned. The rift is at its widest in PowerPoint versions 2007 and 2008 although these current versions are better behaved in the way they explain these errors.

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.

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:

  1. Keep things simple – and use PowerPoint’s drawing tools to create shapes and drawings rather than using content from a third party application.
  2. 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 iTunes songs or WindowsMedia audio files.
  3. 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.
  4. On the Mac, avoid using PICT graphics – on both OS platforms, GIF, PNG, and JPG work best. For illustrations, use WMF or EMF files.
  5. 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.
  6. Remember some features don’t work on both platforms – Mac versions of PowerPoint still don’t have motion path or trigger animations – although they can show you motion path animations in presentations created on Windows – you still cannot edit them though.



We discussed three important aspects of Version Hell – and there’s a whole lot more than just these issues that you may encounter. The best thing you can do is create a unique set of guidelines for everything you do on a PowerPoint slide. Here’s a starting set of thoughts – add to these, and make changes as per your unique requirements:

  • Decide upon the lowest common denominator for your organization, and document them.
  • Don’t edit files through a cycle of version pairs. This could be something like this: you created the presentation in PowerPoint 2003, then made changes in 2007 using the compatibility mode, and saved again – and kept alternating between versions.
  • Although you should not edit your PowerPoint presentations on different versions, the opposite is true as far as checking them is concerned. Always check the presentations files as often as you can on versions/platforms where you need to deliver.
  • As far as possible, use industry standards file formats that are not platform specific.

As you might have realized by now, there are no solutions to version hell – but there is still so much you can do to avoid it in the first place.

Having said that, there’s no better solution to this problem other than creating a long term plan – this is a plan that moves everyone in your organization to working on the same version of PowerPoint. But I guess that does not happen very often in the real world!


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