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Address document-handling frustrations in OS X

Occasionally in some setups, opening even standard document filetypes can result in odd and frustrating errors.

When using current programs on your Mac to manage files generated from an older system, you may run into some errors in which the libraries and services used in the current program cannot properly interpret details of the files. This usually results in a formatting issue similar to a missing font, but it can also result in crashes or hangs.

Recently MacFixIt reader John wrote in regarding such an issue:

I have been trying to work with some PowerPoint presentations in Keynote in order to covert them to a Keynote presentation. I keep receiving an error that PICTD has quit. It keeps popping up. I have contacted Apple support but they are not familiar with this process or how to prevent the error.

In this case, the PICTD process is a small background utility, which according to its manual page, is simply a general helper tool that is part of the Cocoa framework (the set of libraries used for developing applications in OS X). However, by its name it's very likely associated with managing images that are stored in the PICT format, a legacy format used by Apple in its first Macintosh systems that was similar to PDF in that it could hold several different image formats.

In OS X, Apple has moved to other formats such as PDF, but still includes some libraries for handling PICT data, since it was included in many applications for handling images in saved documents.

When such errors occur, one approach is to try tackling the situation by performing the file management routine in another user account, reinstalling and updating the software you are using to manage the files, and performing maintenance routines to check for any other general errors on the system. However, while useful, these steps may sometimes only at best provide a hint to the root of the problem.

Since in this case the problem is happening when opening files from one application (PowerPoint) in another program (Keynote), the easiest approach may simply be to tackle the conversion routines being used by updating the file format in its original handling program. Most applications that save structured documents routinely update their format specifications, so if the current version you are using is showing handling problems, then use the program to convert it to a newer (or perhaps older) version than the format the document is currently in.

By doing this step and resaving the PowerPoint presentations from PPT to the newer PPTX, the PICTD error that John was experiencing was avoided and the files could then be opened properly in Keynote. Unfortunately, in some situations this may mean tediously converting files one at a time, in which case alternatives are to use the original program for handling the file, or use an intermediary that supports the same file format. For example, if you do not have PowerPoint on your system and are running into similar problems, you can get another Office program such as LibreOffice or OpenOffice, to hopefully open the document successfully.

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