PowerPoint 4.0 for Mac: the story so far

2 Oct

This is a recap of my attempts so far to access the 50 or so PowerPoint files that were created by PowerPoint 4.0 for Mac, part of Mac Office 4.2, in 1998 on a Mac PowerBook Duo running System 7 or System 8.

  1. I’ve known for some time that I had these old PowerPoint files that wouldn’t open. It was while trying to use ImpactStory that I decided I should try to get the best of my old slide presentations up on SlideShare. During this process I became irked by these old files that wouldn’t open. I decided to collect all the “bad” files together. Around half were easy; they were xxx.ppt files that PowerPoint 2004 (my current version) refuses to open. The other half did not have a ppt extension. Files on old Macs had a separate mechanism (the resource fork) for recording some metadata including the file type, and I obviously had not bothered with the .ppt extension in many cases (eg where files were not likely to be copied to a Windows machine).
  2. To ascertain which of these files were actually old PowerPoints, I opened them in Mac Word 2004, using the “Recover Text from Any File” option. This has been hidden rather successfully in Win Office 2010, but you can still find it if you try hard. After a few pages of junk you’ll see some of the text from the slide title and subtitle, and then more of the text from slides (often only partial, and usually with extra junk at the start of a slide title). Quite a way through the file (but after the last of my own text), I can see:


    dRClick to edit Master text stylesSecond Level

    Third Level

    Fourth Level

    Fifth Level”

    … and a bit further still

    ” ò†¬‑’UK Electronic Libraries Program (eLib)‑‑Chris Rusbridge‑‑‑fFIGIT 2:Microsoft Office:Microsoft PowerPoint 4:Templates:Color Overheads:dbllinec.ppt – Double Lines‑Chris Rusbridge‑[1]6@įÙèHiΩ@ĸ¯$-


    ‑Microsoft PowerPoint 4.0Gà…”

    which I think represents the directory information on where the PowerPoint templates were stored in my old Mac, and the version of PowerPoint.

  3. Where I saw these sorts of hints, I added “.ppt” to the file name. (Here I did a bad thing; I didn’t copy the files before changing the names. Now it’s not clear which were “guesses” and which had .ppt extensions all along. This is not quite as bad as it looks, as there are several copies of the original “Old Presentations” directory on my Mac, and I also have Time Machine backups over the past few years that can be browsed, but it does illustrate how easy it is to corrupt the evidence!) If they still refused to open they were moved to the “Bad ppt” directory. At the end of this I had around 50 files. Obviously, as a first step I had attempted to open them with PowerPoint 2004.
  4. Next, I tried to upload a candidate file to SlideShare, thinking they probably had a pretty good converter. It uploaded fine, but the conversion failed.
  5. I have a more recent version of MS Office on a Win 7 machine downstairs. So I transferred one down there and tried to open it. No luck.
  6. I had previously tried opening these files with OpenOffice, but decided to download and install the latest LibreOffice version. Sadly, it won’t open the files.
  7. At about this point I mentioned the problem on twitter, and suggestions started to come in. Les Carr had one of the most apt: “Suggestion: have a stiff drink and a sit down. Then try ‘vi’.” Good call!
  8. Andy Jackson suggested ZamZar (they say they support older PPTs than PowerPoint 97 in this blog post). It’s a free service, so I uploaded a file. It works offline; you give it an email address and it is supposed to send the converted file back (or a link; not sure). Sadly, it failed to convert. The error message said they were looking into it, but given it’s a free service, I didn’t hold out much hope. Later, when I had reported this via twitter, I did get a tweet from Zamzar saying “Hey Chris, that’s an old file (1993) ! We can’t promise to convert it but send it to support@zamzar.com and we’ll try …”. I’m a bit shamefaced that I haven’t got around to it yet (things were moving apace at the time).
  9. Ross Spencer indirectly suggested MS PowerPoint Viewer, but it will only open files back to PowerPoint 97/98. I had already checked the MS web site and the specs for Office 97/98 are the earliest publicly available.
  10. I knew that Win Office 2001(ish) with an option pack of some kind would open the files, as an ex-colleague from Edinburgh days had converted one for me previously. I sent her a sample, but her software has been upgraded and no luck.
  11. Clive Billeness suggested Softonic’s RZ PowerPoint Converter, which can reportedly convert PPT files to video (?), but their web site only claims versions back to 2000.
  12. At about this point, Andy Jackson asked for a couple of sample files that could be mounted in a testbed with a CC0 licence. I sent them, and they are now available.
  13. Also at this point, Euan Cochrane tweeted “Just emulate the PPTs”. There was quite a bit of discussion on what that would mean, and its implementations, especially since none of us has a licence for Mac Office 4.2 any more. Andy found a site where I could buy a licence for a couple of hundred dollars, and there are freely torrented pirate versions… but I was not keen on either of these options! My reaction to Euan’s suggestion prompted a rather hasty blog post, to which Euan has given a measured response!
  14. Now Andy and Dave Clipsham were quizzing me on what my aims were. Did I need these presentations? We agreed an initial aim was to be able to open them to find out what they were about!
  15. Dave Clipsham tweeted “I have mac office 4.2 and seem to be running OS9, although I’m mac-averse so may not grasp sys subtleties…” (It turns out he was running OSX 10.2 and Office 2001, at least on the successful system.) An hour later he tweeted “Success! files opened in powerpoint for mac 2001, I then saved as, and these opened in office 2007”. The resulting files were saved to the same directory as the original files. I was able to get copies, open them with my PowerPoint, and upload them to SlideShare where they successfully converted and are now accessible. Dave made a report on his process. This was covered in the last post.

So at this point, I have two converted files, and I hope that TNA and the BL have gained some valuable information. But I have still not solved the problem of how I can convert the remaining files, at least sufficcient to assess them for value. I guess at this point I should be contacting Zamzar again! Also, Kevin Ashley did suggest he may have an old PC with old Office software on it, that might do the job.

I also plan to gather all this together, and ask Microsoft for some help. I think I mentioned before, in the past I would have contacted Lee Dirks for this but we have lost that valuable contact (and lovely man). I’ll try Tony Hey instead, who was in some sense one of my bosses in early DCC days. What do I want? I’d like the specifications for early versions of PowerPoint and other Office components to be added to Microsoft’s open specifications page. I’d like a converter available from Microsoft, runnable on both Mac and Windows machines. And I’d also like a grant from someone (to someone, other than me) to add a new input filter for Libre Office to cover these formats! That would make them openly available to everyone in the future, in a sustainable way.

It’s not too much to ask, is it?


5 Responses to “PowerPoint 4.0 for Mac: the story so far”

  1. Chris Rusbridge 3 October, 2012 at 10:53 #

    I’ve also tested it with Apple’s Keynote; no luck there either.

  2. yuhong 30 May, 2013 at 04:08 #

    FYI, on the Windows side PowerPoint 2003 is the last version to have the old PowerPoint 4.0/95 converters, and SP3 disables it by default. See this for how to unblock:
    In fact, MS09-017 and later PowerPoint security updates disabled PowerPoint 4.0 (but not 95) by default in PowerPoint 2000/2002. See this for how to unblock:


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