PowerPoint took that edge back when it came time to kick the presentation up a notch. I decided to apply some special effects to the pictures that I’d already placed. PowerPoint has a more extensive library of effects, including lens distortions and other transformations. I also appreciated its broader range of shadowing options, including perspective shadows that I used to make one of the pictures look as though it were standing on a solid floor.
I also elected to add some visual punch by showing our home planet against a starry sky. I began by importing pictures of a star field and of Earth from another project onto a new slide. Unfortunately, the shot of Earth had a black background, and I was too lazy to fire up Adobe Photoshop to erase it. Both PowerPoint and Keynote can delete unwanted backgrounds, but Keynote’s Alpha tool is more versatile. (It works only on contiguous pixels and lets you adjust its sensitivity by dragging; PowerPoint renders every pixel of a selected color transparent, so it works well only if the foreground object doesn’t have any colors that match the background.)
Next, to illustrate milestones in manned spaceflight, I imported a QuickTime movie of the launch of Apollo 11. Inserting movies is simple in both applications, but Keynote provides finer control over movies as they’re playing. Although you can start and stop playback during PowerPoint slide shows, you can’t pause and scroll through clips the way you can with Keynote. And the QuickTime Inspector in Keynote allows you to loop movies in either direction, something you can’t do in PowerPoint. (Amazingly, though, Keynote doesn’t support QuickTime VR, which PowerPoint does.)
To provide a summary of all the Apollo launches, I decided to add a table—often more effective than bulleted text for presenting numeric information. Both Keynote and PowerPoint let you build tables without invoking a separate application, but PowerPoint makes it easier. In Keynote, tables adopt colors and other attributes that complement the current theme, but you can’t tell what they’ll look like in advance. Like Keynote, PowerPoint matches tables with themes, but its Table Styles gallery lets you pick the style you like.
For sprucing up a basic presentation, both programs have their strengths. I’d have to call this phase of the comparison a tie.
Last, to illustrate the concept of an interplanetary voyage, I needed to simulate a spacecraft traveling from Earth to Mars. Keynote was the clear winner here, since its Action Build feature let me define a precise trajectory. Although you can move objects in PowerPoint too, you can’t specify the path that they will follow; that’s a glaring omission, especially since this ability has been available in PowerPoint for Windows for years.
I used another clever Keynote feature, Smart Builds, to show Earth and some of the other planets in our solar system with a turntable effect. With each mouse click, the next planet rotated into view as the others dimmed and receded into the background, an effective way to show more pictures than I could fit comfortably on one slide.
Of course, the real test of a presentation is how effectively it works for an audience. Both PowerPoint and Keynote let me keep tabs on my progress and see what was coming up before everyone else did. I also created handouts with both programs, although neither supported as many formatting options as I would have wished.
But there are other considerations, too. It’s not uncommon for speakers to collaborate on presentations or deliver them via someone else’s computer, potentially a gigantic headache for Keynote users living in a PowerPoint-dominated world. Since its inception, Keynote has supported exporting presentations in PowerPoint format, but the results are usually less than ideal without manual cleanup.
Microsoft’s adoption of XML-based file formats in PowerPoint 2008 only adds to the complication, especially if you have to share presentations with colleagues who use only PowerPoint for Windows; despite Microsoft’s claims of interoperability, cross-platform sharing is not seamless. Keynote lets you export slide shows in QuickTime format with transparency, movies, and other dazzling graphics intact, but that works only if QuickTime is installed on the computer you’re using to present.
For advanced presentation tools, I think Keynote is better than PowerPoint. When it comes to sharing presentations with colleagues using other tools, neither one is entirely effective.
The final word
PowerPoint has caught up to Keynote in many areas and surpassed it in some. But Keynote’s workflow and overall feature set remain superior. Practically speaking, your choice of software probably depends more on the hardware you’ll be using to deliver your presentation (and the software installed on it) than on the features of your authoring program. For that reason, unless Apple releases a Keynote player application for Windows, which isn’t likely, PowerPoint may be a more sensible choice for many speakers.
Next page: Presentation Alternatives