How-to: Understand PowerPoint File Formats

PowerPoint Slide Presentation

The PowerPoint presentation software has been around for three decades but you may never realised it could output anything other than its standard presentation format. Here’s how to  understand PowerPoint file formats.

Standard PowerPoint Presentations

Save a standard PowerPoint presentation under whatever name and PowerPoint adds the file extension .pptx, such as  my_presentation.pptx.

Embed any macros in the presentation and PowerPoint will automatically save your presentation as a .pptm file recognising that it contains macros. While you can force PowerPoint to save a presentation with macros as a .pptx file, PowerPoint won’t let you play the macros.

.pptx and pptm files are the default choice for saving slides with all the current features of PowerPoint slides.

Anyone still using older versions of PowerPoint ( now ancient PowerPoint 97 through 2003) cannot open the newer pptx and pptm file formats, but you  can share your presentation with them by saving  your slides as a .ppt file. Not all features of the current file formats are compatible with the older ones, so you may lose effects, transitions, embedded media, macros and the like.

PowerPoint Shows

You can share a presentation with others without letting them change anything; this is where the locked-down PowerPoint Show file format is useful -a .ppsx file it can’t be edited. You need to save it as a editable .pptx file first, as savign it only as a PowerPoint Show file will also lock you out of editing your own slides.  If the presentation includes macros, save it as a .ppsm file. Again you can share it with users in an older file format as a  a .pps PowerPoint Show file.

PowerPoint Picture Presentations

You can also output slides as a flattened Picture Presentation. This flattens each slide to a static image; no effects, transitions, macros, just pictures. You can play it as a slideshow, but it’s effectively just an image gallery.

Windows Media Videos

One old trick we’ve been using for twenty years is to  convert a PowerPoint presentation to a standard Windows Media Video (.wmv) file to be played in Windows Media Player or any other video player that can handle the .wmv format. This enables rolling video presentations on any device that can handle media, it doesn’t need any PowerPoint software to play this ordinary again you need to remember to save the slideshow as a .pptx as the video file is not an editable PowerPoint format.


You can save the text parts of your slideshow into a  plain text file to use in other documents or porgrams. The rich text format (.rtf) file saves only the text, losing  all of the images, animations, slide-to-slide transitions, macros and media.

PDF Files

The other format that doesn’t require and PowerPoint software to view is the Portable Document Format .pdf file. The venerable PDF can be opened on just about any device with a PDF reader, just remember that PDF is a static document, rendering a snapshot of your slides in text and pictures without animation, tranisitions or macros.

XPS Files

Microsoft has retained its largely proprietary XML Paper Specification (.xps) file which can be viewed in Microsoft’s XPS Viewer. Microsoft would argue it’s useful to share slides with people without Powerpoint or a PDF reader. Nobody uses XPS format.


When you have a presentation you want to re-use, you can save it as a template containing a number of slide types and designs. This is great for keeping a liveried presentation look and feel for branding and marketing purposes. Templates use the .potx file format,  .potm format if it includes macros, and .pot file for use on PowerPoint 97 through 2003.

Office Themes

PowerPoint is part of Microsoft Office so you can use two Office file types to share document designs across Office programs. Saving a presentation theme as an Office .thmx file means you can apply design elements such as fonts and colors to other PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.


There’s a handful of other formats including plain text and HTML versions available in PowerPoint. Plain text might be useful to pull unformatted into another program. HTML format will attempt to reproduce the layout of the slides with as much text and images as it can translate with markup and stylesheets, so you can put it into a web page. Again, this is a static format without effects, transitions, macros or media files, but it can be useful for getting some of the content onto a website or blog.

PowerPoint Viewer

Lastly, you can still download the free PowerPoint Viewer if all you want to do is display a slideshow on a machine without PowerPoint installed. The Viewer will display everything in the presentation including effects, transitions, and macros. It will also play embedded media if the machine has the right media codecs installed. The Viewer works off the native PowerPoint file formats, so if portability is your objective, you don’t need to change file formats to get the full presentation experience. AJS

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