- Provides: Electronic and printed presentations
- Format: DVD
- Developer: Microsoft
- Minimum Requirements: 500MHz PowerPC G4 or Intel processor, Mac os X v10.4.9, 512MB RAM, 1.5GB hard disk space, DVD drive, 1024x768 display, Internet access (for Entourage and certain features)
- Processor Compatibility: Universal
- Retail Price: $229.95 (please note download discounts and upgrade prices at Microsoft's website.)
- Availability: Out now
PowerPoint is the Kleenex, Xerox or Pyrex of presentation softwareit's name has become synonymous for the application's usage. As Mac users, we'd like to say we do Keynote presentations, but in reality it's an electronic presentation, and the software we use is either PowerPoint of Keynote (or Acrobat Pro if you want to be unique, but that is a different story). Not many software programs are as used, depended upon, reviled, and joked about as PowerPoint. As Mac users, we are fortunate that we do have a choice: both by our desires as well as demands as our work or conditions warrant. Both Keynote and PowerPoint are excellent presentation programs with plusses and minuses each way.
[Note: This is one part of a six part review. We recommend you read the Office 2008 Overview before reading this or any other review as it describes a number of features and dynamics that cover all of the Office programs.
The basic working window of PowerPoint is mostly the same as previous versions of PP and Keynote during the creation state. A filmstrip of slides on the left showing all of the slides, a main window to the right showing the selected slide, and a lower region for adding notes. Particular to PowerPoint, and one of its better features, is the new Elements Gallery to Office 2008, a key tool for efficient presentation creation. Here, you can bring up Slide Themes, Slide Layouts, Transitions, Table Styles Chart, and (off the screen) SmartArt Graphics and WordArt. The number of possible themes provided do give the user a reasonable range of selections for formal business, education, and a group of friends (although putting friends through an electronic presentation might be stretching friendship a bit...).
Adding images into the picture region is as simple as it can be, and adding text is also a no-brainer. Although there are dynamic guides when moving objects, the most dynamic of them seems to only guide a component (text or image) from where it was (to where it it is being moved). Unfortunately, I could find no guides to coordinate one object on the slide to any other object on the slide outside of the base-line of text. In addition, there is no ability to select two or more objects and align them. This impaired and inadequate functionality has to be one of my biggest complaints in regards to the UI of PowerPoint.
Another disappointment was the transitions between slides. While PowerPoint does utilize the quartz engine for effects like the cube, page flips, and other effects that have made Keynote stand out, the results in PowerPoint were sadly lackingthe effect was there but the finesse wasn't. The ability to fine-tune the controls was limited.
Bullet transitions, known in PowerPoint as "animations," do not have the same dynamic range as those in Keynote. Like the transitions, the animations were fine, but not dynamic. On the other hand, there is also a bullet feature called "Emphasis" that causes bulleted text to "do something" after it has appeared on the screen. These can be simply things like changing color to becoming bold to wiggling like a worm. This lets you bring in your bullet points and then return to them in turn to emphasize various aspects about the issues of each. This is a potentially valuable tool when presenting a collection of information.
As seen below, you can add effects by clicking on the dropdown "stars," where green represents incoming bullets, yellow represents the Emphasis effects, and red are the departure effects. Unfortunately, if you later decide to change an effect, you must manually delete the current effectotherwise you will be adding new additional effects. For example, if you have a "slide in from left" effect, and later wish to change that to a drop down effect, if you do not delete your previous effect you will have all your bullets come in from the left and then come in from above. Needless to say, it's always a good idea to do run-throughs of your presentation before you do it live.
As stated before, I really like the Elements Gallery for selecting slides and transitions. It is very easy to see the various categories of transitions, and view (and select) as needed. I do not understand why something akin to this isn't used for bullet animations. One annoying program quirk was how PP gave you a sample of what that transition does; when you selected a transition, your slide would blink, the effect would take place to show you what you just selected, and then the slide would again blink returning you to where you were before you tried the transition. This was a bit disconcerting and bordered on annoying.
A very nice feature of PowerPoint is that transitions within a presentation go forward and backward. Thus, if you are in the middle of a presentation and you need to back up your slides, your "cool" transitions will display in both directions. If you need to go backwards in a Keynote presentation, the transition is ignored.
An additional option for transitions and animations are sounds. There are 57 installed sounds, and if you like, you can import more. I can only assume these are included because someone very powerful at Microsoft said "put them in," or perhaps some users actually want them. They range from simple noisessuch as "fly in" and "fly out" noisesto crowds going "ooohhh" and large auditoriums "applauding." Trust me, if I'm at a PowerPoint presentation where those sound effects are in use, I'm outta there.
Amongst the changes from PP-2004 to PP-2008 are some that can be very frustrating. For example, in PP-2004, if you were editing a slide show and wanted to check how a particular transition appeared, you would simply select a slide before the one in question and then click on the "Slide Show" icon; the slide show would start at whatever slide you had selected. In PP-2008 regardless of what slide is selected, the presentation will always starts from the first slide. If you select "Slide Show" from the View menu, it will always start from the first slide. However, if you want to start from the selected slide, you need to right/Control-click on that slide and select "View Slide Show." It is strange inconsistencies and inefficiencies such as this, which are all over the place in Office 2008 (and discussed in length in the Entourage review), that make working with Office 2008 require a longer learning curve than it should.
One of the great consistencies in Office 2008 are functions such as SmartArt, as well as interaction with iPhoto, Table Styles, Charts, WordArt, and the Projects center in Entourage. When you couple these with the thesaurus, dictionary and access to the web from within Office, there is a consistent and (easy to work in) environment.
PowerPoint lets you save your presentation in the new XML format as well as legacy 2004 (and earlier) format. Keep in mind that some features may not survive such a saving. In addition, you can save your presentation into a Movie format so you can place the presentation on an iPod, and also into a web page as seen below.
When saving your presentation for the web, there are no customization options available, so what you get is what you getno exceptions. The user can directly select any slide from the selection region on the left or can go from slide to slide by pressing the arrow heads on the bottom of the page. Besides no customization, there are also no options for optimizing any of the pages; as such be prepared to find pages that look good, but are much larger in storage size than should be necessary. Oh, any web pages created by PP will be tagged to open with Microsoft Explorer, a product that Microsoft ceased production of in 2001.
Obviously, the biggest asset for using PowerPoint is that you can interact with those in a Windows environment. While you can save a Keynote doc to the PowerPoint format, much is lost. When creating your presentation in PowerPoint from scratch, well, there's not as much to lose.
In short, PowerPoint has some very strong attributes and features. It's a good program with strong interactive ties with the rest of the Office suite. If you have Office, there is less of a driving need to get Keynote. If you are in a situation where you have to use PowerPoint, you will be able to create strong presentations (see below). However, if you own both Keynote and PowerPoint, and you have the option of choice, I'd go for Keynote.
By the way, there are many many websites with wonderful guidelines, suggestions, and tips on how to create and make a good presentations. No matter what tool you use, if you do not know how to make a good presentation, you have a strong chance for embarrassing failure. This is why one comedian used PowerPoint as a YouTube comedy routine...it could equally have been Keynote, the issues are cross platform and cross product.
So, in my hopes that those reading about products to make presentations will also learn some guidelines on how to not embarrass themselves, here are some of my favorite guidelines. In other words, if you are going to use this product, you should learn how to use it well.
- PowerPoint comedy
- Five Rules for Better PowerPoint Presentations
- Really Bad PowerPoint - This is a PDF of a PowerPoint presentation with a lot of extra commentary.
See other Microsoft Office 2008 product reviews.
___________ Gary Coyne has been a scientific glassblower for over 30 years. He's been using Macs since 1985 (his first was a fat Mac) and has been writing reviews of Mac software and hardware since 1995.
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