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Mac Pictures are a no-show November 6, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in computers.
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I’ve got a new breakdown of operating systems on ATLAS member’s portables: Old people (like me) use Mac’s. Young people use Linux. And all the CERN presentation computers use Windows. Needless to say, this causes some problems! Need an easy joke? Just mention Windows in your talk.

I’m attending the ATLAS Trigger & Physics week here at CERN. All of yesterday was plenary talks. One thing that happened repeatedly was a slide would show up “Quicktime TIFF required to display” and an empty image. I’ve never seen this happen as often as it did. The consensus, of course, was that Microsoft was at fault.🙂

The weird thing is — it doesn’t happen on every single file. I don’t have a mac handy, so I can’t do any testing, but I did find several postings around the web – this one was the best one. The comments are particularly informative.

Basically, the problem happens because PowerPoint stores the images in the format it was handed. If it was handed a TIFF file, it will store a TIFF file in the PowerPoint file. If it was handed a jpeg, it will store a jpeg. Unfortunately, when it stores a TIFF some weird compression is written out that requires QuickTime to be installed to undo the compression. If your Windows computer doesn’t have QT, then it can’t be uncompressed. Comments to the effect that “windows can’t open TIFF files” are not correct (and that I could test before writing this ;-)).

But it gets weirder, at least, a little. If you have a file on your disk and you use PowerPoint to insert it with the “insert -> File” command then it will work. But if you cut/paste from Safari or something similar, then it won’t work. This turns out to be because you are crossing the Cocca/Carbon boundary and funny things happen to images when that happens. There is one hint: after you do the copy, use something image editing tool to modify the picture. This will force PowerPoint to convert it into a format that can be used on both platforms.

The flip side of this is PowerPoint should convert the image into a cross-platform compatible format. Perhaps the next version of PowerPoint for the Mac??

Of course, the other solution is to just use the PDF to do the presentation. But people do love their animations…😉

Sorry for the computer support nature of this post, but it was just so common I figured there had to be someone out there that understood this issue better than a room of several hundred physicists!

Comments»

1. Fred - November 6, 2007

Hi Gordon,

I appreciate your insight and transparent attitude. The integrated system problems you refer to occur frequently enough that the powers that be will eventually come up with a sane and proper solution. For the time being it seems like the posting you linked to is one way around it. And PDF’s are very friendly, also. Zooming in on graphic images is a blessing to our eyesight as we get older. I come across similar situations several times each day while editing corporate videos that contain multiple elements from various applications. Part of the problem is the authors of PowerPoint presentations and the like don’t always cross their t’s and dot their i’s as they should for a ‘nice complete job.’ It’s mostly a cookie cutting operation due to the time constraints for completing the projects. Cut and paste or feel the heat from management. We simply won’t be able to ever change this factor nor the percentage of times it will happen. I’m an Apple user like yourself so we’ll just have to bide our time until the Mac/Intel machines are smoothed out and future versions of software products like VMware’s Fusion is incorporated respectively within the workstation. Then it really won’t matter if it’s Windows, Linux, or any other OS system that’s supporting the majority of our program and application needs. Thankfully, that year and day is not that far away. We’ll still have to remain pro-active in maintaining our skill sets and tools, though. Out of curiosity, what product do you use to create your vm’s? p.s. Good post as many of us have to rely on our little machines and our ability to manipulate them to pay the rent.

2. gordonwatts - November 6, 2007

Actually, I’m a Windows guy. I used to use Macs a long time ago, and I’ve tried them recently (my wife has one), but Windows is just much easier to use for me — I guess I’m used to it.

PDF is great — and it is definately better than PPT for cross-platform compatibility. But it isn’t golden — we’ve had problems sometimes. But they are rare.

For the VM’s I’ve used both VMWare and also Micrsoft’s Virtual PC. For the single VM that I use I can’t tell the difference in performance between the two, unfortunately (I’d like them to be faster!!). And I like Microsoft’s interface a little bit better. VMWare has a better display driver when Linux is your guest OS.

3. Mary - November 8, 2007

Hi Gordon,
Thanks for sharing this, it made my day as I was looking for the answer to this question for a middle schoolers PowerPoint problem.
It was created on a Mac and being presented on a PC and came up with the “windows can’t open TIFF files” error.
I’m sure now that it had more to do with how it was inserted than anything else after reading this.
It just made me feel better that greater minds than mine (or a sixth graders) had had similar problems!

4. gordonwatts - November 9, 2007

Mary – glad this pointer was a help. Given how many macs are used here at CERN – a place full of (I hope) smart people – it is amazing that few if anyone seems to understand the technical issues.

5. peter - November 23, 2007

the basic difficulty is that on a mac, much of the image decoding work for the last several years has been handed off to quicktime. most programs that use video files or image files on a mac integrate or link against quicktime libraries to do the decoding.

the problem is that quicktime is a deep, dark, pile of manure. as you have noted, with cocoa based programs, and especially with leopard, apple is finally backing away with new cocoa based image and video handling. the question is whether or not anyone else will follow along.

in addition, tiff files have always had a bit of a platform dependence problem in that macs and pcs saved them with a different byte ordering. (actually it was a difference between the processors more than the operating systems.) graphics programs that were originally developed on the mac, which had to translate the byte ordering to in order to port to windows and the intel chip are now having retranslate on the mac due to the new intel chips. from an insider’s point of view it’s actually pretty funny.

best advice, don’t use tiff files in something that must be cross platform, it was never meant to be. use jpg, gif or png. those are the three that were definitely designed with platform independence in mind. (though I don’t know if ppt supports png.)

6. gordonwatts - November 23, 2007

Thanks for the info. I had no idea that TIFF wasn’t designed for cross-platform use — the byte ordering issue actually sounds like it really drives that point home. I would have thought that that would be part of the standard!

I’ve certianly cut/pasted PNG files into Windows side of PowerPoint, but I have no idea what format PowerPoint then stores it to disk in (it could convert it behind my back to jpg, for example).

There are lots of these deep dark secrets in the computing universe, I guess. Part of what makes history so much fun! And thank goodness for “if” statements!🙂

7. peter - November 23, 2007

if you use photoshop, there’s a bit in the dialog that asks if you want to save for mac or ‘ibm’ byte ordering. photoshop on both should be able to handle either, but other programs may not be so ‘worldly…’

tiff has a lot of other uses, 8, 16 or 32 bit per channel color depth, and an arbitrary number of alpha channels are great for printers. but cross platform compatibility was not one of the bigger concerns when it was developed. it’s worth remembering at times like this the catch phrase about the UNIX ‘standard’ which is “the standard that isn’t.” more and more I find that it is applicable in other places.

I don’t believe that ppt does any background altering of image formats, if it did, you probably wouldn’t have run into that problem with the platform specific tiffs.

btw, you mentioned earlier that you have had problems with .pdf… what sort? there’s a public bug reporting page at adobe to report this sort of thing… (disclaimer, I work there,) we do read them…

and regarding “if” statements, I think it was grace hopper, who said with regards to computing, “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” the “try” statement is much more fun to use…😉

8. gordonwatts - November 23, 2007

Thanks, Peter — that probably explains why you know so much about TIFF formats!🙂

I searched my blogs for a mention of Adobe (and bug) but I couldn’t find it. If you know where I did, can you point it out to me? I can’t recall a specific bug I have with PDF. It is good to know there is a bug page, I wasn’t aware of that. I am a big believer in complaining about bugs (when you keep quiet, nothing gets fixed…).

My biggest on going complaint about Adobe is the way the license their Acrobat product. I need fairly simple tools (i.e. adding, removing, rotating pages). But I have about 4 different computers and the way we’ve interpreted the license that means I need to buy 4 copies. I rarely use all four computers at the same time (I sometimes terminal server from one to the other). The educational discount makes life a bit simpler, but not completely.

9. peter - November 23, 2007

ummmm. at the top of this page in comment #2? I’m assuming that was you…

the current license terms with adobe CS3 series products, (at least the one I work on, which is not acrobat.) allow for the installation on 2 machines. I haven’t read it that closely, but I think that there is a caveat that specifically says one laptop and one desktop, but I’m uncertain. there is a limit of 2 activations for any given serial number. It should be in the EULA somewhere. the current licensing and activation system is… run by my current employer…😉

there are some alternatives in creating and manipulating pdf files but you said you weren’t a mac or unix person… I’m less familiar with 3rd party software on windows.

10. gordonwatts - November 23, 2007

Ah, I’d forgotten I’d written that and it didn’t show up when I wrote “bug”.🙂

Indeed, I do use Windows mostly (and Linux somewhat). One thing that is interesting is almost no Linux machine I use (most are centrally managed clusters) is using Acro beyond version 4.

By far the most common problem I see at conferences is the problem refered to in this post. Usually people blame either Microsoft or Adobe for the problem (no irony here, nope!).

But I’ve seen it crash and hang the host browser (I’ve seen this happen in IE and FireFox and SeaMonkey). I’ve not seen it happen on a Mac, but I’ve never seen anyone open 8 or 9 tabs all containing PDF’s on a Mac and then use it for conference presentation. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been reproducable and I have no idea who’s fault it is, but since restarting the Acrobat process that is running in the background fixes everything I’ve always assumed it was Adobe’s.

All other formatting problems that I can think of were clearly not PDF’s fault (like using OpenOffice to render a Word document). But now that I know this I’ll keep it in mind.

A cool feature: be able to go full screen while reading the PDF in the browser plug-in that comes from Adobe. Currently everyone has to save it to a file, and then open it. Or they just give their talk with the browser hanging out around the side (ick – especially considering how long some people spend making their talks look good).

11. peter - November 24, 2007

hmmm… first guess is to check the amount of RAM on the crashing machine. 8 or 9 instances of any large program will likely cause fits, and acrobat is no longer small… though if you are using the browser plugin in IE, all bets are off as to who owns the problem (IE6, IE7, XP, Vista? etc.) the windows dr.watson crash logs are usually helpful in figuring out just which execution thread caused the problem. also, by default any version of acro past vers 4 tends to have some optional plugins added to it. the more of these that you disable, the better. as far as macs go, I suspect many people use the built in ‘Preview.app’ which tends to be a bit lighter weight.

here is the bug/feature request form. my only advice there is be *very* specific when describing the steps required to duplicate the bug. anytime one of those shows up, someone has to try and duplicate the error, so if you leave anything out it makes it harder to find. try and include any pertinent information. (system type, amount of RAM, disk size, graphics card etc.)

I don’t spend a lot of time with acrobat, other than the most recent versions, and I don’t give a lot of presentations, though I could swear I have seen done what you are asking for… though it may be a reader/professional difference. have you tried 8 or 9? I won’t be back at work to check until later next week. though at that point it would be easier to take this conversation off list.:-)


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