Recover Corrupt PowerPoint Presentations: Conversation with Paul Pruitt

Monday, May 2, 2011
posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 5:46 AM IST

Paul PruittPaul Pruitt graduated with a degree in science before he got interested in computers. He has served professionally in the IT sphere since 1996, and works extensively trying to recover data from corrupt files. Since 2002, his S2 Services Data site has evolved into a comprehensive information source on free resources and freeware links that help users recover data lost to file corruptions, file deletions, failing disks and lost passwords.

In this conversation, Paul discusses how he ventured into file recovery services, and what PowerPoint users can do to keep their presentation files secure and uncorrupted.

Geetesh: Tell us about how you got into doing file recovery tasks for corrupt Microsoft Office files?

Paul: I was working at a Help Desk for a health services company and another agent brought me a corrupt Excel file which he said no one had any luck in dealing with. I found out from the Internet that occasionally OpenOffice Calc would open corrupt Excel files and presto, it did. I was hooked. I was excited especially since I suspected I had found a way I could really make a difference if I “got the word out” about free ways of recovering from file corruption.

Geetesh: And if anyone ends up with a corrupt PowerPoint file, how can you help them?

Paul: Well, even after 8 years I am still not a master in the subject, but my paid consultants and I have developed several pieces of freeware for extracting the text and images from corrupt Microsoft Office and OpenOffice files. Additionally I try all the tricks for recovering PowerPoint files with freeware.

If I don’t succeed then I turn to the demos of commercial PowerPoint recovery programs and try all of them and recommend both the best one and the best value one (not always the same) to the customer. If the customer is satisfied, I charge $22 for recovering the text and images and hopefully the formatting. If I have to resort to recommending commercial software, I don’t charge.

There are a few services superior to mine that are more familiar with actual structure of especially the old PPT PowerPoint files or who use technician licensed versions of commercial recovery programs. I honestly can’t afford the technician licenses as they usually run $1000+ per year and there are 10 or so programs needed. I’m focused more on making available free resources for recovery from file corruption and providing the best advice. However, as far as I know our corrupt Microsoft Office text and image extractors are unique although one free extractor exists for corrupt Microsoft Word 97-2003 doc files.

The official structure of both the PPT and PPTX file formats has been released by Microsoft and it is my dream to program freeware that recovers both the text and formatting from corrupt Microsoft Office files. However the file structure is highly complex and so far has been off-putting to me other than the basics, for instance where the text and images are located in PPTX files. I can understand why the commercial service and software are so expensive.

Geetesh: Are there any guidelines that PowerPoint users can follow to prevent corruption of their presentations?

Paul: Yes. AutoRecover is a very valuable feature of Microsoft Office applications which causes the automatic saving of your files, say every 10 minutes. That’s the feature which will bring up a file(s) on the left pane when PowerPoint is launched after a crash. User can make sure this feature is turned on, which I think it is on by default with PowerPoint 2007 and 2010. It’s behind the Office button in PowerPoint 2007 (the File menu in PowerPoint 2010), under PowerPoint Options and the “Save” section on the left. Just make sure this is checked.

Other things to take care of are is to avoid the bad effects of electricity blackouts by using a UPS. Also it’s important to keep your computer free of viruses and other malware. Additionally you’ll want to avoid overloading the computer when you are working on an important file. It might be wise not to have a lot of programs open while working on an important presentation, especially if the some of the other programs are not tried and true commercial programs or are known to crash frequently as they could “poison” the memory space in which PowerPoint is using, writing corrupt data into your presentation’s memory locations. If you have trouble with PowerPoint itself crashing, you might reinstall PowerPoint or try the Microsoft Office program repair features which are accessible through the Start Menu in the Microsoft Office Tools Section and in the Uninstall/Change programs app of the Control Panel.

Also the media that you store you PowerPoint on is not immune to failure either. Floppy disks are the most vulnerable but people don’t use those much anymore. USB memory sticks and hard drives fail too as I’m sure most of us have experienced, as do cloud storage as we have seen now with Amazon. So it’s best to save at least one extra copy and maybe more of important files. The new SSD disks may be the least prone to failure, but there is always the unforeseen fire and water damage.

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