PowerPoint 2004, by Microsoft
Posted: 15-Nov-2004

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Microsoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Mel Krewall Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Overview
With PowerPoint 2004, Microsoft adds new features to a staple of the business world. PowerPoint is so ubiquitous at most businesses, studies have been done to discover the effects it has had on the way companies communicate. If PowerPoint were to be suddenly removed from computers at Lockheed Martin, much of our ability to communicate to others in a group setting would be disrupted. PowerPoint is a simple way to put your thoughts and information in an attractive, easy-to-present package that can be shared on-screen to groups. Microsoft has added new capabilities to PowerPoint 2004 to help you be more effective in doing just that.

Requirements

  • Processor: Mac OS X-compatible processor that is a model G3 or higher.
  • Operating System: Mac OS X version 10.2.8 or later.
  • Memory: 256 MB of RAM.
  • Display: Monitor that can display 1024 x 768 or higher resolution displaying thousands of colors

Basics
The basics of PowerPoint remain as they always were. Text, graphics, media clips, sounds, animations and other information is organized into groups of slides that make up a presentation. The user is able to add slides, rearrange them, change transitions between slides and set timings for automatic presentations. Pre-packaged templates can be applied to the slide backgrounds, text and layout, or they can be modified to suit the need. Templates can also be created from scratch. PowerPoint is well suited to presenting sentence-length thoughts and ideas, along with illustrations, graphics or drawings. It is less suited to text paragraphs, which can be difficult to read on-screen.

New Features
There are a number of new features available in PowerPoint (PPT) 2004, some more interesting than others.

Add Objects
PowerPoint 2004 includes a new feature shared with other programs in the Office 2004 suite, an updated Formatting Palette. As mentioned in the
Excel 2004 review, one of the options is that the Formatting Palette makes nice use of Mac OS X's translucence. Also like Excel, the Add Objects panel is new in 2004. It puts many of the functions used most often and makes them one-click operations. Want to add a slide? Just click on the desired layout and into the presentation it goes. Along with Slides in the Add Objects Palette are Symbols, Lines, AutoShapes and Text Shapes arranged in a tabbed layout so it's easy to switch among them.

Formatting Palette
Many other commonly used formatting functions are integrated into the Formatting Palette in this version, most of which previously resided in toolbars. I personally prefer this approach, as the Palette frees up vertical screen space. This is desirable especially in this era of widescreen displays that Apple has adopted as standard throughout most of their computer line. The multiple toolbars stacked up below the menu bar in previous versions chew up vertical screen space and also have no text associated with all the cryptic icons (this is a criticism of toolbars in general). The Formatting Palette in PPT 2004 eases both problems, as it parks to the right of the active window and incorporates text for many of the options to assist in choosing the right one. Additionally, all the palettes have disclosure triangles that let the user choose which to display or hide. It's nice to be able to have all the options close at hand, only a click away.

Font Shadow Transparency
One of the subtle effects that makes OS X so striking when you first see it is all the drop shadows. Windows, window controls, text, you name it - OS X puts a shadow on it. This contributes to the photo-realistic feel of the whole OS. New to PPT 2004 is font shadow transparency. Enter text, enable shadows, and customize it for direction, color, offset, softness and transparency. It's one of those things that, while you can't quite put your finger on it, it just looks better. Features like this set the Mac version apart from the Windows version.

New Transitions and Slide Designs
Another Mac-only feature of PPT 2004 is 3D Transitions. Mac OS X support of Open GL and Quartz graphics lets Microsoft jazz up slide transitions in PPT 2004. The most familiar of these is the Cube transition, which rotates the slide as though it were a cube, similar to Apple's Fast User Switching transition. The effect is very striking combined with the new photo-realistic Slide Designs that Microsoft has included with this version. Not all of them would work in every business, and some are quite quirky, like the Highway design, which places your text on a 3D rendered green overhead highway sign. They are attractive, very Mac OS X-like, and add new life to the dated-looking templates that have shipped with the last couple of versions. The down side to the 3D transitions is that it may not look the same in Windows, or in earlier Mac versions. The Compatibility Report feature will evaluate differences for various versions.

Presenter Tools
Microsoft has added some new tools for presenters to improve timing and rehearsal of slide shows. The Presenter Tool shows your deck in a three panel window with a timer at the top left, slide previews in a scrolling window on the left, the main slide in the center with notes below, and an upcoming slide floating window. It works better than it sounds. By stepping through the text and rehearsing the talking points, a presenter can refine her presentation and add timings to the charts. It's much easier to do it this way than the old Rehearse Timings option, although that is still available.


Summary
As with other parts of the Office 2004 suite, PowerPoint 2004 really takes advantage of Mac OS X features and produces slide shows that really look like they belong on the Mac. Also like the rest of Office 2004, you have to decide if the incremental new features are worth the upgrade (or new purchase) price. PowerPoint 2004 is a great program and essential for many businesses. In business, it is likely that your employer would purchase the software for you. The other consideration for Mac users is Apple's program Keynote. While the objective of this review was not to compare Keynote and PowerPoint, heavy users of presentation software might find one or the other to be more appropriate to his or her needs. Keynote, however, is not cross-platform, whereas PowerPoint is. The bottom line is that PowerPoint 2004 is a matured, powerful, and feature-driven cross-platform solution for creating eye-catching and informative presentations, and if you can afford it, I highly recommend it.

Pros

  • Indispensable in many businesses
  • New Mac-only features
  • Excellent Mac OS X look and feel
  • Helpful presenter tools

Cons

  • Office is expensive
  • Not all features are backward compatible
  • Updates are mostly incremental


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice