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Keynote 2

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Since its surprise debut in January 2003, Keynote (   ; April 2003 ) has attracted a cadre of loyal fans who’ve worked around the program’s limitations to craft stunning presentations. Microsoft upped the ante last year with PowerPoint 2004 (   ; August 2004 ), a strong upgrade that delivered spiffier graphics; a smoother workflow; and Presenter Tools, a control panel for on-screen slide shows. And just when it seemed that Keynote might die on the vine, Apple unveiled Keynote 2. This new release fills in many of the previous version’s gaps—and adds a few new wrinkles.

Animation Options

Animation builds determine how text and graphics enter and exit the screen, and Keynote 2.0’s new Build Inspector options give presenters much more control over them. To help you manage complex build sequences, a sliding panel lists all the animations that you’ve programmed for a slide. You can program any build to begin on a mouse click or from zero to 60 seconds after the previous animation, and you can specify the precise length of each animation. Keynote also now supports simultaneous builds, during which two objects can appear or disappear at the same time.

Instead of the previous version’s five speed options, Keynote 2.0 lets you specify a precise duration for any build or transition. However, Keynote still lacks the ability to initiate a build when you click on a specified text or graphic object—there’s no way to make a box disappear by clicking on it, for example. And you still can’t apply builds to master slides, so you can’t change all your slide title builds from dissolve to twirl in one step.

Other new options are geared toward automated or interactive presentations; they’re ideal for kiosks or computer-based training materials. Keynote’s new Document Inspector tab lets you program a slide show to start automatically when it opens, or loop when it’s over. If you want a presentation to run unattended, you can specify times for automatic slide transitions and builds that would normally require a mouse click to play. Keynote also lets you select a soundtrack that spans one or more slides (that plays until the music is over), an often-requested feature.

Live Links

Like PowerPoint, Keynote lets you insert links to other slides in the same show, links that open another Keynote presentation, or links that open your Web browser to display a Web page. (You can’t create a link that opens another application or document, though.) Web View, another new feature, inserts a snapshot of any Web page directly onto a slide. When you run the slide show, Keynote automatically updates the page if your computer is connected to the Internet. Unfortunately, you can’t scale the snapshot or zoom in on a specific action, and Web View refused to work at all on two of my three Macs until I created a new user account. (Apple is aware of this problem.)

Drawing and Media

The Mask tool, a much-needed addition, lets you draw a rectangular window over an imported image; you can then reposition the image inside the window, so you don’t have to crop the image first. Keynote’s expanded Shapes palette sports six new shapes, and you can now enter text into an object simply by clicking on it and typing. Alas, Keynote still lacks a Bézier curve tool, so you should use a separate drawing program for anything beyond simple illustrations. And Keynote still doesn’t let you resize grouped objects—to change their size, you have to ungroup them first, an annoying extra step.

Keynote 2.0’s tight integration with Apple’s iLife applications makes it easier than ever to add sounds, images, and movies to your slides. The new Media Browser provides instant access to your iTunes and iPhoto libraries and your Movies folder, although it doesn’t let you specify any other research locations. Surprisingly, Keynote still gives you less control over imported QuickTime moves than PowerPoint. Unlike PowerPoint, Keynote doesn’t allow you to begin playing a movie by clicking on it, nor can you start and stop playback in mid-stream. Support for scrolling QuickTime VR panoramas is also lacking.

Keynote’s expanded repertoire of eye candy includes new slide transitions like Droplet, an eye-catching effect that simulates ripples in a pool of water, as well as several new text builds. Two of the new transitions—Burn and Flash—aren’t supported on Macs with older video cards, however. (They’re listed separately in the pop-up menu in the Slide Inspector’s Transition tab.)

Help for Presenters

Taking a cue from PowerPoint, Keynote has a Presenter Display feature that lets you monitor your presentation and stay a step ahead of your audience. But Keynote leapfrogs PowerPoint by letting you decide which elements (current slide, next slide, or speaker’s notes) to show. An optional timer displays either the elapsed time or the time remaining in the slide show, along with a digital clock. Presenter Display works only if the monitor on which you show the presentation isn’t mirrored, so it won’t work on iBooks, and you can’t use it to practice your presentation unless you connect a projector or a second monitor.

Keynote 2 squashes a bug that kept the cursor invisible throughout a slide show. However, you can’t draw on the screen while a presentation is running, so you can’t use an electronic whiteboard or tablet to annotate slides. Unlike PowerPoint, you have to use a separate application to record a voice narration for your presentation.

Export Controls

In addition to QuickTime, PowerPoint, and PDF export options, Keynote now lets you export presentations as a series of images or as a Macromedia Flash movie. Flash export is only adequate for quick-and-dirty jobs, though—among other problems, soft drop shadows aren’t rendered faithfully and text alignment sometimes suffers. If you’re planning on showing your presentation on the Web, you’ll still have to do it manually, because there’s still no HTML export. And Keynote has a bug that also plagues Pages —exported PDF files are missing their drop shadows when viewed in Adobe Reader.

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Several omissions from Keynote 2.0’s feature list are especially frustrating. For example, Keynote still lacks a proper slide sorter that lets you display rows and columns of slides at various levels of magnification. For aging boomers with declining eyesight, like me, Keynote’s single column of tiny thumbnails is almost useless. Only time will tell whether this new version is less finicky than its predecessor, which occasionally balked at opening presentations for no apparent reason. So far, I haven’t encountered any difficulties with corrupt files, although there have been scattered reports of problems in Apple’s Keynote discussion group.

Despite its limitations, though, Keynote 2 is a greatly improved application that lets you design presentations that look better than the best that PowerPoint has to offer. And Keynote’s clean, accessible interface makes it easy to get your work done quickly when there’s a deadline looming.. I’m hoping that Keynote’s inclusion in iWork ’05 will mean more-frequent updates. In the meantime, though, Keynote 2 is worth every penny of iWork ’05’s price.

With Keynote 2’s Presenter Display, you see what’s coming before your audience does.
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