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I'm on a Mac. I tried using OpenOffice, but mathematical symbols often get mangled.

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Which was the exact method used when you tried converting? -- Was the original document an .odt file? -- Or was it a .doc opened in OOo? -- Did you use the builtin, native *'Export as PDF...' functionality of OOo (or did you use some 'print as...' or 'preview' function of Mac OS X)?? -- Or is the real problem that your OOo cannot even display the math symbols in the original document? -- Please give more precise data around your question... – Kurt Pfeifle Jun 2 '11 at 9:51
@pipitas: OOo does not display the symbols correctly. It's probably due to the fact that the Symbol font on Windows uses nonstandard encoding, and OOo fails to translate it. See 1 2 3 4. OOo devs don't care. – LaC Jun 2 '11 at 11:58
@pipitas, @William Jackson: now I don't know what answer to approve; both are useful, neither is perfect. :/ – LaC Jun 5 '11 at 14:12
Then just consider which answer did lead you to more overall insight about the different components at work? However, you do not need to approve any answer, if you are not fully satisfied... – Kurt Pfeifle Jun 5 '11 at 18:20

If you are on a Mac, you can convert just about anything to PDF by printing it and clicking the PDF button in the bottom-left corner of the print dialog.

Print to PDF

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Sure, if I had something that could render those symbols correctly in the first place. OpenOffice can't. – LaC Jun 1 '11 at 19:44
My apologies, I assumed too much. You can try uploading the PowerPoint file and printing from the PowerPoint Web App at – William Jackson Jun 1 '11 at 19:49
I had tried with Google Docs before, and while it displays the formulas correctly, it won't print uploaded Powerpoint documents. I didn't know about Office Live, but it can render and print the file correctly! The resulting PDF is not perfect (it's not searchable, and when I try to copy text the result is gibberish like =-)>-'+-&$121$&*&+)-), but this is already better than OpenOffice. Thanks! – LaC Jun 1 '11 at 21:06
@LaC: IF your problem is that OOo cannot even display the symbols in the original document (not talking about the converted-to-PDF form here), then it might simply be a question of you not having the required font file used by the document on your Mac... – Kurt Pfeifle Jun 2 '11 at 9:54

Now that LaC confirmed in a coment that OOo for MacOSX cannot even display the original .ppt file correctly because of the Symbol font involved, the problem of converting .ppt to PDF (without using MS Office, that is) can only be solved by tackling the font problem.

This may be a way:

  1. Find in the menu: Tools --> Options --> --> Fonts.
  2. Activate the checkbox named Apply replacement table.
  3. Select Symbol in the left Font drop down list.
  4. Select OpenSymbol in the right Replace with drop down list.
  5. Click on the checkmark button on the right.
  6. The last click should have added the new substitution to the table listed below.
  7. Make sure you check the Always box inside that table.

(Note, this procedure works on an current English version of LibreOffice Impress 3.3.2 on Linux. So it may be a bit different on an older version of on MacOSX, but it may be enough for you find your own way...)

If this solved the original problem, the secondary problem of converting the .ppt to PDF should also be gone.

(This assumes that all the math symbols displaying the problems come actually from the original Symbol font. There may be a few more characters with similar problems coming from other fonts. In that case work out another appropriate entry to the font substitution table yourself.)

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Thank you. I've tested this solution in LibreOffice 3.3.2; it half-works in some cases, but does not work in others, even within the same document. Where the Symbol font is used in the document, it can be displayed correctly with OpenSymbol; however, if you copy the text into another program, it is displayed incorrectly: for instance, π becomes p. That's because MS Symbol is a pre-Unicode font, and so it puts the π glyph in the code point for p, and OpenSymbol imitates it. What OpenOffice should do is convert the code points whenever the Symbol font occurs, but it does not. – LaC Jun 5 '11 at 14:06
In other cases, some other font is used in the document, but with a code point in the private use area (eg U+F0E0). This is an alternate method MS Office uses for representing the legacy encoding of the Symbol font: when it sees a code point in that range, it subtracts F000 and uses the resulting code point from the old Symbol font (E0 in this case). Again, OpenOffice should do this conversion transparently, but it does not. Unfortunately, font substitution does not even help with display in this case. – LaC Jun 5 '11 at 14:09
up vote 0 down vote accepted

The latest version of LibreOffice finally seems to have fixed the encoding problems that plagued for years. I've tried it with some Powerpoint files that used to get mangled before, and now the symbols are displayed correctly. Kudos to the developers who made this possible!

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