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Friday, November 16, 2007, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Road to Mac Office 2008: PowerPoint '08 vs Keynote 4.0

The planned mid-January release of Office 2008 offers a significant overhaul of the productivity suite's look and features. Previous segments described new features in Word and Excel, with comparisons to Apple's Pages and Numbers. This article examines what's new in PowerPoint 2008 in contrast to Keynote 4.0, the first new standalone productivity application Apple released for Mac OS X. It also looks at why Mac Office 2008 is still missing applications from the Windows version of Office, including Project, Access, and Visio.

This report goes to great lengths to explore the origins, history, and maturity of Microsoft's PowerPoint. For those readers with limited time or who are only interested in what's due in PowerPoint '08 as part of Office 2008 for Mac, you can skip to page 2 of this report.

The Birth of PowerPoint and Other Microsoft Office Apps

Microsoft acquired PowerPoint in 1987 from a Mac software developer Forethought. That company was also the distributor of Nashoba's FileMaker database, and owned the FileMaker marketing collateral and documentation. Microsoft had been unsuccessfully competing against FileMaker with its own Microsoft File. In order to improve its productivity software offerings, Microsoft dumped File and entered talks to acquire FileMaker from Nashoba, as described in FileMaker Early History.

However, after beating Microsoft in the marketplace, Nashoba chose to publish its increasingly popular FileMaker product independently, although it had to scramble to develop new packaging and documentation to do so. That same year, Apple spun off its desktop applications into the new Claris subsidiary. Claris then bought Nashoba began porting FileMaker to Windows. Had Nashoba instead sold FileMaker to Microsoft, the history of Microsoft Office, Claris, and FileMaker would be entirely different.

Project, FoxPro, Access, and Visio

By 1990, Microsoft had released Word, Excel, and PowerPoint under the new name Microsoft Office, first on the Mac and later for Windows. The following year, Microsoft released Project for the Mac. It continued development of Project for Macs up until 1993, when the company began shifting all of its efforts into Windows. Even after Microsoft returned to the Mac in 1997, no new version of Project was ever released by the Mac Business Unit, and the old versions do not run natively on Mac OS X.

Microsoft still wanted to include database software in Office, so it acquired Fox Software in 1992; that company had cloned Ashton-Tate's popular dBASE product under the name FoxBASE, which was later renamed FoxPro. The product was popular on both DOS and the Mac, and Fox was in the process of porting it to Windows when Microsoft acquired it. While it was never included in Office, Microsoft continued to support new versions of FoxPro on the Mac and Windows through 1995. In the second half of the 90s, it was renamed Visual FoxPro after being folded into Microsoft's Visual Studio developer tools for Windows, which includes Visual Basic. This year, Microsoft discontinued Visual FoxPro entirely.

Microsoft also began selling its own database product called Access in 1992, which was never ported to the Mac. This was likely because Microsoft was already selling FoxPro for Macs. Between the period when Microsoft stopped development of Office applications on the Mac in 1994 and the reintroduction of Office for Mac in 1998, FoxPro for Mac died but there was no new attempts made to port Access to the Mac. By that time, Claris' FileMaker Pro was already a strong product on the Mac, and Microsoft determined that there wasn't a large enough Mac database market to fight over.

In 1998, Apple subsequently dismantled the remains of Claris and then reestablished FileMaker, Inc. as a new subsidiary. Unlike competitors to Word or Excel, FileMaker Pro has been able to maintain competition against Access in part because Microsoft only includes Access with the more expensive versions of Office and does not offer a Mac version. Without the assistance of bundling, Access has not been able to displace FileMaker. The company advertises FileMaker Pro as the most popular desktop database product, and Microsoft's Mac version of Office offers support for accessing data from FileMaker using Excel. There are also third party tools for working with data in Access from the Mac. FileMaker also just released a new consumer database product called Bento, previewed in First Look: FileMaker's Bento personal database for Leopard.

In 2000, Microsoft paid $1.3 billion to acquire Visio Corporation, which had delivered a clone of the Lighthouse Design Diagram! application for NeXTSTEP. The Omni Group delivered a similar product for the Mac called OmniGraffle (below), which Apple bundles on new Macs. Omni also offers a pro version, which can open and save Visio 2007 documents, leaving little reason to want a port of Visio in Mac Office.

PowerPoint 2008


Along the same lines, Marware's Project X (below) provides project management software compatible with Microsoft's Project files but developed specifically to take advantage of features in Mac OS X, leaving little demand for a Mac version of Project.

PowerPoint 2008


The Culture of Microsoft PowerPoint

Those developments left the MacBU to concentrate on only delivering the existing products within Mac Office 2008: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage. Both Word and Excel deliver features missing from other Mac tools, and Entourage exists primarily to serve as an Exchange Server mail client for Mac users in corporate settings. PowerPoint serves more as a placeholder propping up convention.

While Word and Excel both followed established software roles in word processing and spreadsheets, PowerPoint was an entirely new concept in desktop software when it appeared in the late 80s. PowerPoint is designed to serve as a virtual slide projector, making it easy to present visuals while speaking. Over the last twenty years, "powerpoint" has become a common term for presentation slides.

Yale University professor Edward Tufte has become an outspoken critic of common elements of PowerPoint presentations, particularly because the medium encourages the oversimplification of facts through the use of bullet points. Charts and other graphics commonly minimize detail for readability, and the limited templates in PowerPoint tend to make meetings and presentations boring and homogenized, while at the same time consuming the attention of the audience rather than focusing it on the speaker and the message.

Competition for PowerPoint

By the release of Office v.X in 2002, PowerPoint had fallen into a rut; neither it nor the Office 2003 version for Windows really offered anything new. In 2003, Apple released Keynote as its own new presentation tool. In addition to more sophisticated graphics and text editing tools, Keynote also revamped the overall interface.

It added a mini slide preview in a sidebar that supported drag and drop reordering of slides, as well as segment grouping features using indented slide sections that could be hidden using disclosure triangles. Hidden groups of slides are skipped during the presentation.

Keynote also exposed the advanced features of Mac OS X's Quartz Graphics to make it easy to create soft drop shadows and use free rotation, image masks, translucency, and reflections on placed objects, as well as enabling advanced transition effects between slides. It also presented automatic positioning guidelines to make it easier to center or align text and graphics on the slide. With a second display attached to a laptop, the presenter could also direct their presentation to a projector while watching a presentation timer, reading notes, and seeing a preview of the next slide on their main screen.

Following the release of Keynote 1.0, Microsoft dramatically improved PowerPoint in Office 2004. However, some of the matched features of Keynote were constrained by other factors related to Office. For example, while PowerPoint 2004 added soft drop shadows like Keynote's, they weren't compatible with the Windows version of PowerPoint. Microsoft also added a hundred new template designs and more transitions in PowerPoint 2004, although these were far simpler than the smaller number of professional designs Apple included with Keynote.

Since the release of Office 2004, Apple has introduced three more revisions of Keynote. The latest added nine new themes, voice over narration features, motion path animations, Smart Builds for automatically adding animation to photos, new text and transition effects, and the Instant Alpha tool for extracting backgrounds from photos.

On page 2 of 3: New in PowerPoint 2008: User Interface; PowerPoint Templates; PowerPoint Transitions; PowerPoint Tables; and PowerPoint Charts.