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.
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.
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.
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.