Resurrecting old PowerPoint files

28 Dec 2009

I was recently browsing through some archived files from a job long ago and discovered that I couldn’t open the PowerPoint files.  This surprised me because I thought that MS Office was able to open files from any previous version, but it appears not.

Digging further, I found that the files in question were in PowerPoint 4.0 format (from Office 4).  I created these in 1993 or 1994 and today’s Powerpoint can’t open these (and doesn’t seem to recognise them as PowerPoint files at all).  As far as I can tell, files created by software earlier than MS Office 97 (Office 8.0) may not be recognised by the current software.  Now 1993 is sixteen years ago so these files are certainly old, but it’s not that long ago.  There must be a lot of files of that vintage still around in people’s archives.

I couldn’t find any way of resurrecting these files without installing an old version of Office (e.g. Google Docs won’t read them) so I installed Office 2000 and found that it would read these PowerPoint files successfully and I managed to save them in a more recent format that today’s MS Office would recognise.  (To make matters a little bit more complicated, at home I’m working on Macs these days, so I needed to install WinXP in a VirtualBox VM to allow me to install Office 2000 but that was easy enough).

This worked nicely and I got my files back, but it did occur to me that if I hadn’t had an old version of Office lying around this wouldn’t have been possible.  I’ll think twice before chucking out old software in the future (and be a bit more careful about the file formats I’m using to archive data).

Interestingly, Word doesn’t seem to have the same problem.  I managed to open Word files of that era using MS Word for Mac 2008 and they seem to be OK.  I don’t have any Excel from that era to experiment with so I don’t know what the score with it is.

published under Technology