The desktop technician solved the problem himself, with the comment

There is something wrong with these files …

but didn’t realise it.

Microsoft PowerPoint XP was crashing whenever the customer was trying to open a particular set of files.

Google should have been his friend here.
aka Let Me Google That For You : Powerpoint crashes when opening file

The first link, PowerPoint crashes while opening certain presentations, has the answer.

“Since you can’t tell from within PPT whether an image was RGB or CMYK, you’ll need to go back to the source image files to verify whether this is the problem. Using PPT2003’s Save Image As feature, you could save the image as PNG or JPG, re-import it and delete the original. The presentation should then open in earlier versions of PowerPoint.”

PowerPoint does not support CMYK very well.  No surprise there.

So how do we tell if a PowerPoint file has a CMYK image in it, if we can’t open it?

If it’s a PPT file, in other words a PowerPoint 97-2003 format file, to confirm the issue we can use Notepad, and search for CMYK.
cmyk in a powerpoint file

If it’s a PPTX file, in other words a PowerPoint 2007+ file, and you don’t have PowerPoint 2007, you could try the following.

  1. Rename the PPTX file extension to ZIP
    powerpoint 2007 icon –> powerpoint 2007 extenstion renamed into zip
  2. Open the file with your favourite archive program.
    pptx file contents
  3. Search for the offending image, and replace it.  Or delete it.
    (no, I don’t know an easy way to find the offending image, sorry)
  4. Rename the ZIP back to PPTX, and then that should fix your issue.

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