The Office Suite Smackdown

PowerPoint 2008 vs. Keynote ‘08

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Is Apple’s iWork a viable alternative to Microsoft Office? To find out, we asked Franklin N. Tessler—our go-to expert on presentation programs—to use PowerPoint 2008 and Keynote ‘08 to create the same project, progressing from the basics (data entry and formatting) to more-advanced features. Our questions: Which program is better at each stage of the job? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Which jobs (and which users) require which tool?

To compare Microsoft PowerPoint 2008 ( ) and Keynote ‘08 ( ), I used both programs to create a presentation on space exploration, starting with built-in templates and then adding some special effects.

Layouts, tools

While both programs provide templates that help beginners—or anyone who’s racing to meet a deadline—cook up a presentation quickly, Keynote’s approach to starting a new presentation is more straightforward.

By default, when you open a new document, Keynote lets you choose from an ample collection of themes. These consist of sets of color-coordinated master slides, with each master specifying the appearance and layout of slide elements, and with placeholders for titles, subtitles, pictures, and other content. Pick a theme, and you’re good to go.

Choosing a Master: Keynote’s Masters menu displays thumbnails of all the master layouts in the current theme.

In contrast, PowerPoint forces you to choose themes and layouts separately. Slide Themes, the first button in the Elements Gallery, lets you specify the presentation’s colors, fonts, and backgrounds; Slide Layouts, the second button, lets you determine the composition of elements on each slide. Although PowerPoint’s separation of themes and layouts is more flexible and lets you make global changes more readily, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the huge number of possible combinations.

To create a title slide, I chose appropriate layouts from Keynote’s drop-down Masters menu and PowerPoint’s Slide Layouts gallery.

Animate Bullets: You've got plenty of options for animating bullet point's in Keynote's Build Inspector (left) and PowerPoint's Custom Animation.
Next, I added an introductory slide by choosing a master with placeholders for a title and bullets. When I’m showing a series of bullet points, I like to highlight each item as I’m talking about it, dimming the others. Both programs let me do so easily: PowerPoint’s Toolbox and Keynote’s Inspector consolidate formatting and other functions in tabbed floating windows. The Toolbox provides a wider gamut of features than the Inspector—it lets you insert shapes and special text symbols, for example—but it’s a bit busy, with vertically stacked sections that change to accommodate the selected object. Keynote’s Inspector windows are less cluttered, and I could open as many as I needed.

I finished off my basic presentation with a series of text and picture slides, starting with a layout that had a title placeholder at the top. I added pictures to slides by dragging them directly from the Finder. Then I switched to the slide-sorter view—which displayed the entire presentation in thumbnail format—to review my work and rearrange the slides. Although PowerPoint provided extra magnification levels (six to Keynote’s three), Keynote’s largest thumbnails were bigger than PowerPoint’s, so they were easier to read. I also preferred Keynote’s transitions (the special effects that play between slides): PowerPoint offered more choices, but Keynote’s were more appealing and ran more smoothly.

Overall, for getting a basic presentation up and running quickly, I give Keynote the edge.

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