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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


SmartArt Graphics

The Gallery of every new Office app includes SmartArt Graphics, but they're best suited to use in PowerPoint. These graphics are intended to make it easy to lay out automated designs that the user can edit using a panel control. This process SmartArt graphic (below) allows you to add or remove graphical bullet points, automating the process of drawing arrows between them and laying the items in space.

PowerPoint 2008


The labels of a SmartArt Graphic are configured using a translucent panel with rounded corners and a gradient ball that acts as its resize widget (above). Translucent panels are only supposed to be used in applications that present documents full screen mode, not within normal Aqua windows. Why Microsoft decided to camp it up with a fat margin, round corners, and amateur looking non-standard widgets might never be known to the public. These odd aberrations appear throughout Office 2008. Closing the panel makes it slurp into the calculator icon attached to the bright blue frame around the SmartArt object.

Using the SmartArt Graphics Styles in the Formatting Palette (below), you can apply predefined color swatches and effect styles to the items to render different effects. Here are three versions of the same item, with different colors and effects applied. SmartArt seems like a good way to offer non-technical, art-challenged users an easy way to present their ideas graphically without much effort.

PowerPoint 2008


Keynote doesn't offer a comparable graphic-set automation, so laying out the same designs would require more imagination and effort. At the same time, the SmartArt items all pretty much look like editable clip art, so loading up a presentation with them will quickly make it appear canned and boring. Outside of the Graphic Styles supplied, there are not obvious ways to really customize them to look original.

Object Animation

Items on a PowerPoint slide can be assigned an animation using the Custom Animation tab in the Formatting Palette. You can apply a separate entrance effect such as fade or fly in, an emphasis effect such as shimmer or blink, and a similar exit effect. Additionally, audio and video clips can be assigned to play in a given order. This results the familiar PowerPoint-style presentation with timed fly-in items and bouncing titles.

PowerPoint 2008


Keynote refers to animations as builds (the term used by professional animators). Editing builds is similar to transitions. Using the Builds panel, you can select any element on the slide and assign it one of a series of professional looking effects similar to those found in Apple's Motion (below). This makes it easy to create text with letters that appear to be hammered out by typewriter, or to remove text using flames, an explosion of sparks, or other effects.

Build In brings objects into the slide, Build Out pulls objects off, and Action Builds animate an object within the slide. An Action Build can move an object along a straight or bezier path, rotate it, scale it up or down in size or translucency, or apply a combination of factors over a given time duration to created more sophisticated build actions.

PowerPoint 2008


PowerPoint Speaking Presentation

In Office 2008, PowerPoint gets an enhanced full screen presentation mode with a clock that can be used for timing during rehearsal.

PowerPoint 2008


Keynote provides a similar layout, with notes, slides, a clock, and a timer that can all be customized in size and position to suit the presenter (below).

PowerPoint 2008


File Output

PowerPoint allows you to save presentations as a QuickTime movie, as a PDF, as a series of JPEG, PNG or other graphic files, or as a standard document in one of the several PowerPoint formats. It warns you that some transitions do not translate into saved movie files, and that animation effects are not preserved at all. It's not difficult to figure out how to get documents out of PowerPoint, but the settings are not exactly elegant.

Keynote exports to the same formats, but offers more options. QuickTime movies preserve animations and can use interactive hyperlinks for navigation. It can save back to both earlier versions of Keynote and PowerPoint, as well as a PDF document with or without notes, a series of image files, an Adobe Flash movie (Pages 08 comically still refers to Flash as a Macromedia product), a series of web pages, or for automated export to an iPod.

PowerPoint 2008


Neither PowerPoint (below top left) nor Keynote (below top right) use the standard print dialog, so both miss out on the new automatic print preview available to applications in Mac OS X Leopard (below bottom).

PowerPoint 2008


PowerPoint 2008


PowerPoint vs Keynote

While PowerPoint is the weakest link in Office, Keynote is the most mature component of iWork. Both Excel and Word offer significant features missing from Numbers and Pages, but it's hard to suggest PowerPoint is even in the running against Keynote. Its graphics presentation tools are weak and the majority of settings are presented in modal windows that make editing settings a blindly frustrating effort. How would one adjust brightness in a photo using a modal window (below) that provides no feedback to the picture while editing it? The same problem looms for every other control nestled in that window and every other modal window in Office. These settings all obviously beg for a non-modal inspector panel. Office 2008 seems to repeatedly compensate for its user interface weaknesses by layering on multiple coats of makeup that only serve to make it look less professional.

PowerPoint 2008


While a dedicated PowerPoint user could probably eventually deliver many of the effects possible in Keynote, doing so would be far more work and a lot less pleasant. The templates in PowerPoint are anemic and simplistic, the editing tools are spotty and limited, and the application seems intent on forcing you to make use of canned ideas rather that providing you the tools to actually create your own projects.

Keynote not only offers a great selection of powerful tools to create graphical compositions with functional tables, smart looking charts, and professional transitions and animations, but also presents them in an intuitive, simple layout that unleashes creative ideas quickly. You don't select from a handful of predictable and expected effects and then apply a set list of colors; instead you just have smart tools at your disposal that make your work faster. Some examples are the new Instant Alpha for erasing backgrounds, Smart Builds that use drop zones to quickly define sharp animation effects, and the intelligent masking and image adjustment tools for photos.

Like Excel, PowerPoint does not support live window dragging. Even more problematic, the text and graphical objects presented on a slide don't support live dragging. Instead, when you drag an object, you get an outline box, and the object doesn't redraw until you drop it. This is just bizarre for any application running on Mac OS X, but particularly for PowerPoint, given that its entire purpose is to create graphical compositions. Rather than looking exciting and interesting, the new PowerPoint in particular looks like a reheated application salvaged from the late 90s and in need of a complete overhaul. That's bad news considering that this "new version" of Office is supposed to be a fresh reworking of Office for the Mac.

It really looks like Microsoft should just dump PowerPoint and consider other components it could build from scratch for Leopard, similar to FileMaker's new Bento effort. It appears that PowerPoint has survived mainly to carry on the Office brand, but no amount of marketing can float a really bad product. Microsoft should rework its development efforts to deliver a fast, functional version of Word and Excel on the Mac that work as well as the Windows versions, and bury PowerPoint alongside File, FoxPro, Vizact, and Bob.

Apple's iWork '08 suite, which includes Keynote 4.0, is available from Amazon.com for $69.99, an 11 percent savings. Amazon is also offering instant savings on pre-orders of the various Office 2008 for Mac bundles.

Don't forget to check out our previous Road to Office 2008 installments:
Road to Mac Office 2008: an introduction
Road to Mac Office 2008: installation and interface
Road to Mac Office 2008: Word '08 vs Pages 3.0
Road to Mac Office 2008: Excel '08 vs Numbers 1.0