1. PPT - Media file names
I recently ran into a problem on a consulting assignment that I think serves as a good lesson for anyone using audio or video files in PowerPoint presentations. The client had a video clip that had been converted to the Windows Media video format (which is the preferred format, by the way, because it is small and plays well in PowerPoint) that would not play when inserted into a PowerPoint presentation. They sent it to me and it ran fine on my computer, so I couldn't figure out what the problem was. I tried reconverting the file a number of different ways, but it still didn't run on their computer. I ended up going to their offices and it would run on some of their computers, but not others. I just couldn't figure out what the issue was. It seemed that some of the computers may have had a problem with the way PowerPoint was installed because they had all the latest service packs installed, so it wasn't that they were missing some bug fixes. By chance, the client solved the problem a couple of weeks later and let me know how they solved it. The original file name had underscores in it (the "_" character). As soon as they changed the file name to just letters, no punctuation or other characters, the video worked when inserted into PowerPoint. The lesson here is to always name your media files (audio or video) with characters only - no spaces, underscores or other special characters. I still don't know why those machines had a problem with the file named that way, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
2. Adobe Acrobat versions
Ever since Adobe released Acrobat 6 a couple of years ago, and with the recent release of Acrobat 7, I have noticed something that you should be aware of when creating Acrobat files. If you create an Acrobat file in one of these latest versions and view it on a previous version (version 5 or earlier), you get a message when the file is loading that the file was created in a later version of Acrobat and that some of the file features may not be available. While this is a valuable message from a technical standpoint, to someone looking at your file, it can be a disturbing message. They won't know if they are really seeing all of the file you sent or not and they may wonder what is missing. While it is likely that they really are seeing everything (unless you specifically use a new feature), the question still remains in their mind. And this plants a seed of uncertainty in their mind about the information they do see as well. You can't assume that everyone upgrades their version of the Acrobat Reader, since many times they will only ever use the one that came installed when they bought the computer (and some corporate environments don't allow new software to be installed even if they wanted to upgrade). The solution is to create your Acrobat files to a previous version compatibility. This year I will switch to making my files version 4 compatible since almost all of the version 3 Readers are now replaced by a new version or the computer they were on has been replaced altogether. You can set the version compatibility in the Options settings for the version of Acrobat you have. As I say in every presentation, it is about what your audience needs, not what is convenient for you, and this holds true for creating Acrobat files as well.
3. Useful Resource - Old Programs
Sometimes you need to test a file or process on a previous version of a program. But you don't want to uninstall your current version and having a computer for every version would be too much. What may work is to keep one computer and install previous versions as necessary. But where do you get the previous version if you can't find the disks or never had them in the first place because it was installed from a master disk for everyone in the organization? One source is http://www.oldversion.com. It is a site that has older versions of a number of programs that you can download and install. If this is a need of yours, check it out.