I used the symbols font on a slide created using PowerPoint for Mac, and when I opened the same file in Windows the characters turned into squares. Does anyone know what is going on?


You should avoid using the old Symbol font (where you type Latin letters and get symbols instead) in documents these days, as it is not Unicode and there is no way to guarantee it will be seen properly at the other end. Instead use the Character Viewer (Edit > Emoji & Symbols) to input your symbols from the Greek or Dingbats or various other symbol categories found there.


The Macintosh Symbol font dates from.. well.. the Macintosh. I used Font Book to do a "Get Info" on the Symbols .ttf font file on my otherwise up-to-date iMac, and the most recent copyright date it bore was 1999. Whatever charming memories may appertain thereto, I remember Symbol mostly as the one-time proprietary Adobe --> Apple PostScript font which Microsoft Explorer would reproduce on its web pages, but which Outlook would not reproduce in formatted email and MS Word would choke on in .rtf files. Before .pdf files made it possible to embed fonts and exchange WYSIWYG documents in a trivial manner, and before Microsoft eventually licensed Symbol from Adobe, we used to suffer along with (I think) Wingdings / Webdings substitutions for situations where the Windows folks had to have the material show up on their screens.

Thing is, PowerPoint is a world into itself--and only a limited set of fonts are reliable among Windows OS variations, much less when Macs are included. A web search for "safe powerpoint fonts" will show you that Symbol isn't among them--nor, as tubedogg pointed out, is it any longer part of a standard Mac system install.

  • Minor nitpick: I'm fairly sure there was no Symbol font or indeed TrueType on the Mac 128K. I think Symbol was introduced with the LaserWriter. Some time between System 1 and System 6? – D A Vincent Oct 13 '16 at 10:56
  • 1
    You're right. No Symbol and no TT on the 128, and the LaserWriter was indeed the intro vector. I started with a Fat Mac then got a Mac Plus and a LaserWriter with its built-in PS fonts: Symbol, Times Roman, Helvetica, and I forget. (I mentioned the .ttf Symbol file because that's what I've elected to keep from one upgrade to another. No PostScript printer anymore, you see.) That LaserWriter cost like $6500 in 1984 or 1985 or whenever it was that it went on the market, and while that already sounds astronomical, remember that in 2016 dollars the equivalent cost would be about $1.3 million. – Doc G. Oct 13 '16 at 12:33
  • 1
    @DocG. $6,500 in 1984 dollars =/= $1.3 million in 2016 dollars. It's about $15,000. (I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not.) – tubedogg Oct 13 '16 at 16:48
  • Ah, @DocG, memories... I remember the LaserWriter at $10K Australian when introduced. – D A Vincent Oct 14 '16 at 0:16

Yes: The font you used is not installed on the target system, and whatever font it's using instead does not have glyphs for the characters specified.

  • The windows target does have the symbols font installed (I think that might be a standard font that comes with all installation?). Are you saying that the symbols font on osx is different from that on windows? – JRR Oct 13 '16 at 6:17
  • Mac doesn't have a font named Symbols (or even anything with "symbol" in the name) by default. Office for Mac does appear to install a font called Bookshelf Symbol, and three Wingdings fonts. Is one of those the one you used? Is that what it's also called on Windows? – tubedogg Oct 13 '16 at 6:22
  • I meant this font: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbol_(typeface) – JRR Oct 13 '16 at 7:12
  • My MacBook seems to have come with both a Symbol font and "Apple Symbols". I think Apple started shipping Symbol around the time of the LaserWriter. – D A Vincent Oct 13 '16 at 11:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .