Dealing with Apple Keynote’s Backwards Compatibility — or lack thereof

“I’m too old for this shit!”
Roger Murtaugh, repeated line in “Lethal Weapon”

Update (24. October 2015): Apparently Apple did an update on Oct 21, 2015 to give Keynote backwards compatibility (with Keynote ’08 and ’06; see screenshot at the end of this posting). At least regarding opening. Yeah, you wouldn’t want to be able to save it for those still using ’08 and ’06.

Apparently, Apple’s Keynote is totally concerned with the “now”. The past is gone and uninteresting. Even when the past is one of my presentations I need to open again. And hey, perhaps even (gasp!) reuse a couple of slides.

At least that would explain this error message:

This presentation can’t be opened because it’s too old. To open it, save it with Keynote ’09 first.

I got it when I tried to open an older presentation (from 2008) which I had not opened since presenting it. Crashing when embedded videos (that worked in prior versions) do not work anymore is bad enough (solution see here), but this is something else.

Apple’s solution is to have you install a older version of the program you are currently using. Just to convert a file. Seriously Apple … never heard about backwards compatibility? A program should be able to open all files created with prior versions of that program. After all, they did not ditch the name “” and replaced it with “”. It’s still the same program. It suggests that you can still open past presentations.

I mean, a program without backwards compatibility is worse than a data island. If there is only one program that can open your files, your data are in the hands of that company. If they fold and new hardware requires a new operating system that does not support the old software anymore, the data is inaccessible.

But this … it’s like island hopping, where you abandon your troops on the previously “visited” islands.

Anyway, stackexchange to the rescue. In this posting Dan (no relation to me) describes a way to edit the keynote file. It allows you to open the file again. At least, for my slides it worked.

Given that the method is rather important and I don’t trust information on the Internet to be available in the future (incl. this site), I’ll copy-paste it here (no warranty):

This solution requires using Terminal. Do the following:

  1. Make a backup copy of your file
  2. Open
  3. In the Terminal window, typecd (that’s with a space after the cd) then drag your file to the window. It should insert the full path of your file (e.g. /Users/me/Documents/My\Great\File.pages).
  4. Copy and paste the following command as a single line and press Return:gunzip --stdout index.apxl.gz | sed 's-:version="72007061400"-:version="92008102400"-g' > index.apxl
  5. If you don’t see any errors (such as No such file or directory), now typerm index.apxl.gzand press Return
  6. Type exit and press Return and try to open your file. It may give you a compatibility problem report but should open.


The file index.apxl.gz is a compressed XML file that holds information about your document. The command in step 4 uncompresses the file and runs it through a search-and-replace program which looks for the version 72007061400 and replaces it with the version 92008102400 (I don’t know what these versions mean but it appears to work). It outputs to an uncompressed version of the file, which is why in step 5 you remove the original, compressed file (iWork will used compressed or uncompressed files).


If step 4 gives you a No such file or directory error, it’s possible the index.apxl or index.apxl file is uncompressed, in which case you can replace the step 4 command with

sed 's-:version="72007061400"-:version="92008102400"-g' index.apxl | gzip > index.apxl.gz

and step 5 with

rm index.apxl.

This solution could be adapted to an Automator action by someone motivated.


This method is adapted from a comment on this Google+ post.

edited Mar 12 at 16:11
answered Mar 12 at 15:29


What gets me is that this seems like an easy and elegant solution (though not easy to find) that Apple could have implemented themselves. Given that in the example, the file is a pages file (not a keynote file), it seems to work with other iWork files as well (not tested). That hack doesn’t really do much but change a version number in a compressed file (and remove the originally compressed file), the potential to open it is there. After all, “Quick Look” (select the file in the Finder and press Space) works without a hitch.

Hell, they could have included a converter in their Keynote version (which could deal with compatibility issues the above solution cannot fix, there likely are some cases). Instead Apple says: “Well, you haven’t used the slide in a couple of years (prior to Keynote ’09), so you don’t get to open the presentation is Keynote anymore.”

Thank you. :-/

Seriously, Apple, that is beyond annoying.

Anyway, I’ll continue to use Keynote. I just love the interaction when creating presentations (feels much more natural to me than PowerPoint). But I’ll also (continue) to do two additional steps after each created presentation:

  1. Export the presentation as PDF (with presentation notes when used, and without; in the version without notes with “Print each stage of builds”). Esp. having a PDF with each stage of build is a good backup in case you don’t have Keynote available where you present anyway.
  2. Keep the folder with the images and videos (in case I can’t access the images/videos in the presentation anymore; you can get the text from the PDF, and probably even export the images, but better safe than sorry)

Who knows, perhaps someday a better presentation software comes along. One who does not see the past as an acceptable loss.


Update (24. October 2015): Here’s the App Store screenshot:


Yeap, better late than never. I guess Keynote ’08 and ’06 just became antiques.

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