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Keynote Plays Ball with PowerPoint
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Keynote and PowerPoint

These two full-scale presentation programs have many underlying similarities. Both have "themes" for slide design. Both have "master pages" like "main title," "title and bulleted text," and "title only," in each theme. You can't compare the programs on every point; each has some features that the other lacks. Let's compare some specific features.



Creating a New Presentation

Keynote Themes
Figure 5. Keynote themes

Every New Presentation starts off by Choosing a Theme. Keynote comes with a dozen professional-quality presentation themes with high-resolution graphics, using some of the designer fonts that ship with Mac OS X. You can design new themes and exchange them with friends and colleagues. Figure 5 shows some Keynote themes, plus four that I created; those with PPT in the name are originally from PowerPoint.

PPT gives you a choice between its AutoContent Wizard (which lets you choose from about 20 partly-filled-in templates such as Brainstorming, Training, and Communicating Bad News) and 20 graphical Designs (what Keynote calls Themes).

The Inspector

PowerPoint gives you a variety of toolbars. Keynote gives you one customizable toolbar, plus a floating panel called the Inspector, analogous to the PPT Formatting Palette (see Figure 6). The Inspector lets you change the properties of the selected slide or object, and has eight sub-panels:

  • Master and Layout (shown), for slide layout, background and transition.
  • Fill, Stroke, and Shadow for graphics effects, including Transparency.
  • Metrics, for size and location, rotation, and reversal ("flip").
  • Text, for text color, alignment, spacing, and so on.
  • Build, for what PowerPoint calls Animation (see below).
  • Table, for adding rows/columns, alignment, colors, etc.
  • Charts, for chart formats.
  • QuickTime, for controlling embedded QuickTime movies.

The Inspector
Figure 6. The Inspector

Drawing Tools

Keynote is designed to run on a Mac, where good drawing tools like Adobe Illustrator and Omni Group's OmniGraffle abound. So the builders of Keynote did not feel obliged to build in very much graphics functionality. Keynote's Shape Tools are fairly limited; you can draw lines, circles, rectangles, triangles, and arrows (see Figure 7). The Inspector lets you permute these in a lot of ways, but it's still not going to put Illustrator out of a job. PowerPoint has a much larger variety of built-in shapes (like star, lightning bolt, smiley face, etc.) as well as "callouts" (like comic book "talk balloons" and "thought balloons"). For some kinds of talks, PowerPoint's predefined callouts list is a useful tool.

Draw Tools
Figure 7. Draw tools: all of them


This tools limitation extends to the Chart Editor. I wanted to produce a chart showing the number of pigs a farmer would have to sell at market to buy a new pickup truck (numerical values used are from my memory of a talk by Farmer Ralph and should not be cited in further research). What I wanted was to produce a column showing several pigs stacked on one another. With Keynote's Chart Editor, I couldn't do it at all. With PowerPoint's Chart Format, each column got one giant pig stretched to different sizes (see Figure 2). Using Adobe Illustrator, I was able to get just the right effect (see Figure 8). In fact, leaving drawing to a "real" drawing tool is the right mindset for Mac users. MS Windows users, used to having each application have its own moderately useful but slightly different set of drawing tools, may find Keynote's approach limiting. Mac users will find PowerPoint's Add Clip Art, which occupies a toolbar slot and a menu position, plus its own dialog, rather silly. "Why", they'd ask, "not just drag from a Finder (Windows people: think Explorer) window, or from iPhoto, or from any other draw program?" The two groups of users have different expectations.


Figure 8. The Pigs-per-truck chart in Illustrator and Keynote (compare to Fig. 2). (Click for larger image)

On the plus side, Keynote's drawing tools use the Mac graphics toolkits: Quartz, GL, and so on. So any object (text, bitmap, drawing, imported PDF, etc.) can be rotated, resized, or most interestingly, made partly transparent (transparent objects let you see some of what is behind them, like the Dock (task bar) at the bottom of most Mac screen shots). This lets you generate very nice graphics, and gives you control over how dark things will appear (see this example).

PPT offers the corporate crowd the Organization Chart feature, a special set of drawing tools just for org charts. Again, the Mac user may prefer a separate specialized tool such as OmniGraffle, but if your organization gets re-organized often and it's your job to break the bad news to the troops, you might find it handy to have the tool right in your presentation software. If you use PowerPoint to run meetings, you may find its Meeting Minder tool, a text window with the ability to schedule tasks, useful. (Mac users: think TextEdit with a push button to add the contents into iCal as a ToDo or Event.) One tool PowerPoint has that should be incorporated into future revisions of Keynote is the "Rehearse Timings" feature. This can't be a separate tool because PowerPoint saves the timings and lets you see, during a "live" presentation, how you are doing compared to your rehearsal timings. Good for people who like to finish on time!

Another Keynote feature is Photo pages. Each theme has various pages, into which you can paste a bitmap file that will be masked perfectly for a professional appearance.

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