At a Glance
Whether you're reviewing sales figures in a boardroom or teaching history in a classroom, your presentation's style often counts as much as its substance. Apple's Keynote, introduced by Steve Jobs in January, lets you create spectacular slide shows with relative ease. Alas, the fact that Keynote does not include many functions essential for controlling presentations may discourage PowerPoint veterans from switching just yet.
Compared with PowerPoint's busy toolbars and floating palettes, Keynote's uncluttered interface should appeal to novice presenters. Labeled icons below the menu bar provide easy access to common functions, such as creating and deleting slides, adding basic slide elements, controlling layering and grouping, and applying master slides. As in PowerPoint, alterations you make to a master slide are automatically applied to all the slides based on it, so you can make global changes in a jiffy.
You compose presentations in a partitioned window with three adjustable panes. A large central pane displays the current slide; a smaller, resizable area at the bottom is for speaker notes; and the Navigator pane lets you view your presentation in outline or graphic form (see "Pie in the Sky"). Although the Navigator pane offers a few handy options, such as the ability to display slide masters, we'd like to see an additional view, similar to PowerPoint's Slide Sorter, that would let you view rolls of slides at any magnification.
Many of Keynote's most powerful functions reside in tabbed Inspector windows that let you modify a slide's components -- including text, graphics, charts, and tables -- and specify its master slide, background, and transition. However, a few essential functions, such as font-family and size controls, are not accessible via Inspector windows.
Apple has kept its promise to capitalize on OS X's advanced imaging technologies. With fully antialiased text that you can freely rotate or resize, blurred drop shadows, and pictures with variable transparency, Keynote lets you craft powerful, beautiful presentations and layer images to achieve special effects such as a glass window with reflections.
Keynote imports graphics in a variety of popular formats, including JPEG, TIFF, PDF, PICT, and GIF, as well as Adobe Photoshop files. (You can resize or rotate imported graphics, but, oddly, Keynote doesn't let you crop them.) You can also embed Flash and QuickTime movies in slides; however, playback control during on-screen presentations is limited -- for example, imported QuickTime movies can't be stopped and restarted during a show, and interactive features in Flash movies aren't supported.
After seeing what Keynote could accomplish, we were eager to jazz up our existing PowerPoint presentations. But the results of our attempts to import PowerPoint files were inconsistent. Although a few presentations made the jump cleanly, many suffered from glitches that required considerable repair work, including shifted graphics on slides and changed text color.
Unlike PowerPoint, which uses a separate application for graphs, Keynote has built-in charting functions, which are more convenient to use. But PowerPoint supports more chart types than Keynote, including surface and 3-D graphs. We were also disappointed by Keynote's lack of a free-form drawing tool and its inability to allow resizing of grouped objects. Keynote's library of predefined shapes and clip art is also much smaller than the extensive library that ships with PowerPoint.
Recognizing that many speakers lack the resources to build professional-quality slide shows from scratch, Apple ships Keynote with 12 different presentation themes (or templates). Each theme includes color-coordinated masters that range from blank backgrounds to slides with placeholders for titles, bulleted text, and photos. Keynote lets you design and save your own themes, although you're restricted to one bulleted text field on each slide.
Action and Sound
Keynote's Build Inspector lets you choose from nine different build animations that make slide elements appear or disappear. Keynote also includes a collection of eye-popping 2-D and 3-D transitions that you can apply between slides, but its selection of animations and slide transitions is not nearly as extensive as we'd like.
Keynote's build animations suffer from other noteworthy limitations. Unlike PowerPoint, Keynote won't let you specify specific time delays between animations, so there's no way to make a moon image appear three seconds after a sun fades from view, for example. You also can't apply builds to slide masters, so you have to animate each slide individually. Finally, although you can add sounds to slides, Keynote doesn't let you play a sound track throughout an entire presentation.
Longtime PowerPoint users will be frustrated by other restrictions of Keynote's on-screen functions. Keynote doesn't let you specify how long each slide should remain in view, nor can you program presentations to loop continuously in a self-running kiosk. If you're in the middle of a slide show, there's no way to jump to a particular frame; you must use frame-by-frame navigation. Support for embedded hyperlinks to other applications is also absent. And unlike PowerPoint, Keynote doesn't display the cursor during a presentation, so you can't use it to point to items on your slides.
As you'd expect a graphics-intensive application to, Keynote puts heavy demands on your Mac's video card when presenting a slide show. Apple recommends at least 32MB of video memory; however, by lowering the screen resolution on our external monitor, we got acceptable performance on a G3 PowerBook with an 8MB video card. (Shortly after Keynote's release, Apple revised its minimum hardware requirements to exclude Power Mac G3 and PowerBook computers with ATI Rage II, Rage IIC, or Rage Pro graphics processors.)
Showing Keynote presentations on Windows PCs is especially challenging. Keynote can save files in PowerPoint format, but special effects don't translate properly if they don't have a PowerPoint equivalent. Although you can save and show Keynote files in QuickTime format, exporting is slow, and the movies are usually much larger than the original presentations.
Apple's choice of XML (Extensible Markup Language) as Keynote's file format will allow developers to create add-ons that considerably extend its feature set; for example, a Keynote presentation viewer for PCs would improve Keynote's portability.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Keynote is powerful enough to design presentations that put PowerPoint's best aesthetic efforts to shame. For now, if you deliver your presentations only on Macs and you don't mind Keynote's lack of timing and navigation controls, Keynote merits strong consideration, especially at one-quarter the cost of PowerPoint. But if you need to create self-running presentations, incorporate timed animations, or display your slide shows on Windows PCs, you may be better off waiting until Apple addresses Keynote's shortcomings.