It’s been a hectic few days since the flurry of posts last week about trying to access my ancient (1998!) PowerPoint 4.0 slides. I should have posted on the outcome much sooner, but Real Life intervened, and we had to get into the furniture removals and flat hunting business in a minor way, as daughter no 2 moves from London to Bath to start her traineeship in Clinical Psychology. This is a major success for her, but a big step and a major trauma all rolled into one. Now apparently I’ve got to help her buy a car ASAP… but all that’s another story!
To recap: I found a bunch of ancient files created in the later 1990s on a Mac; these files appeared to be PowerPoint slides, but modern versions of PowerPoint will not open them. Some of them had originally had names like “ECDL Crete” (no extension), as the old Mac OS did not require file extensions to open the right software. However, looking at the file contents with the “recover any text” option in MS Word 2004 suggested they were indeed PowerPoint 4.0 files.
I got into a twitter conversation with Andy Jackson initially (he’s a Digital Preservation Architect at the British Library), then also David Clipsham (the file format signatures developer for PRONOM, at The National Archives) and Euan Cochrane (who used to work for Archives New Zealand). Andy asked for a couple of sample files that he could use with CC0 licences as part of a test suite, which I provided. Very soon there was a 3-way, 4-way or even 5-way conversation (Ross Spencer also contributing) going on twitter on what to do with these files. Euan set up a “Branch” to help cope, and invited me to join; however, I don’t like allowing unfamiliar software to tweet for me, so I declined. Nevertheless, the Branch is accessible here (not sure this will work for anyone else), and tells the story.
Anyway, from a preservation point of view the problem was solved by David Clipsham. Here’s his report:
“Chris Rusbridge has a collection of .ppt files created several years ago with Office for Mac 4 and has found himself unable to open these files to assess their personal value.
“Coincidentally, in the course of my recent research as The National Archives’ File Format Signature Developer, I looked at Office for Mac formats, and found that, while Excel and Word documents had a common format with their Windows counterparts, PowerPoint files versions 3 and 4 did not.
“At The National Archives, we hold a sizeable software library and a 2000~ era iMac running OSX (OS version 10.2.8, 800 MHZ PowerPC G4), so, as an exercise in file format migration, I decided to attempt to make these files readable. The trade-off is that this provides me with some real samples of PowerPoint for Mac 4, from which to attempt to derive a format signature.
“I installed PowerPoint for Mac 2001 and attempted to open the files. The application briefly displayed a message along the lines of ‘Updating from earlier version’. Once complete I then saved the files as native Office for Mac 2001 .ppt, which my research suggests is identical to the Windows .ppt 1997-2003 versions
“I then transferred the files to my Windows XP system, running Office 2007, and found that the files were able to be opened fully.”
David does not regard himself as a Mac expert, and was initially worried he might have difficulty with this approach, but found it to work quite well.
Along the way we had a discussion about using emulation, which prompted my earlier post and Euan’s response. Once David had this solution I thought there was actually no emulation involved here; it was a simple case of technology preservation plus migration (in the form of Save As). But I’ve since realised that the PowerPoint I ran was on an older version of Mac OS (System 7 or 8), and executables from that era were run by later OSX Macs using two different emulations provided by Apple (Mac Classic on PowerPC Macs up to 10.3, and Rosetta on 10.4 and 10.5). So I don’t know whether the version of PowerPoint for Mac 2001 that David Clipsham used is a native OSX version or a Mac Classic version running on the emulator.
As a result of this effort, I got two modern PowerPoint files back, and was able to upload these to SlideShare. If you want to get an idea of what I was saying about the Distributed National Electronic Resource to a class of librarianship students from UNC Chapel Hill visiting Oxford in 1988 (as if!), you could have a look!
So, problem solved, yes? Yes indeed, for TNA and possibly BL; they now have a route that allows them to migrate Mac PowerPoint 4.0 files to modern versions. I’m pleased to have been able to help with this. For me, well, my problem is not really solved. Yes, two files have been converted, but there’s a whole bunch that have still not been touched. It’s not TNA’s job to provide me with a conversion service, of course. So to that extent, I’m more or less back where I started!