Anyone who’s suffered through a PowerPoint presentation shortly after watching one made in Keynote, the presentation software provided in Apple’s iWork suite, will know just how big the gap used to be. Where Keynote’s slick graphics and effects help push even the driest message, PowerPoint 2007 presentations could easily appear clunky and formulaic. PowerPoint 2010 narrows the style gap hugely.
There are numerous reasons for the improvement, but top of the list is video support. While you could crank video into PowerPoint 2007, it was hardly slick: you had to edit it down to the right size, make sure it was the right format, and even then you had very little control over how the clip appeared other than size.
Things couldn’t be more different now. The number of formats supported by default has improved massively, and once you’ve added your video you have far more control over it. We’re particularly impressed by PowerPoint’s Video Styles. These can be simple, such as a Polaroid-style frame at a jaunty angle, but we suspect the frame styled to look like an HDTV will gain most popularity – everyone we showed it to was impressed (including Mac owners).
Ease of use
But video is just the headline news; the key behind the new PowerPoint’s success is that it’s so well geared towards helping the inexperienced. Office’s now-familiar Themes remain its strongest weapon. Select from the 40 built-in offerings and you can instantly transform a dull-looking set of slides into something stylish and sophisticated.
Effects are previewed as you mouse over them; just left-click to select. For example, Fly Through makes it seem like the whole slide is careering towards you. And a number of more subtle improvements add to your arsenal. The biggest change to transitions is how smooth they are compared to PowerPoint 2007 – it makes a world of difference to how professional your presentations look. And this new-found performance has allowed Microsoft to be a little braver when it comes to “dynamic” animations of in-slide elements. The way bullet points “fly” into a slide has been added, for example, with 13 different choices for entry, from a zoom effect to bouncing. You get 13 exit effects too, and 14 for temporarily adding emphasis. Those with more time on their hands can produce their own custom animations for yet more impact.
Room for improvement
There are some areas where PowerPoint continues to fall behind Keynote. Apple’s software offers much finer control over placement. Microsoft’s offering also can’t match Keynote’s Magic Move feature, which applies an animated transition to two objects that appear on consecutive slides; useful for moving a large company logo from a title page and then making it smaller and moving it to a corner on the next.
We also prefer Keynote’s method of removing backgrounds from photos. In PowerPoint, as with the other Office apps, Remove Background works extremely well when there’s a big difference between the foreground object and the background, but as soon as differences become more subtle we longed for Apple’s cleverer Instant Alpha feature.
When it comes to sharing your presentation, though, PowerPoint moves ahead. Keynote allows you to publish and share online, but Microsoft lets you save to SkyDrive (all you need is a Windows Live login), publish to SharePoint or broadcast slideshows live. This sends a link to your chosen recipients, who can then follow your presentation “live”, slide for slide. They don’t even need a copy of PowerPoint to view it.
We have our criticisms of PowerPoint, but as a package for professionals it moves ahead of Keynote ’09 – and pushes on further beyond OpenOffice.org’s Impress or Google Docs. It’s a big step up from PowerPoint 2007 too, which is all the more impressive when 2007 was also a big improvement on 2003. May the march forward continue, but in the meantime the choice is simple: if high-quality presentations matter to your business, choose PowerPoint 2010.