PowerPoint Gets Back to Roots

Updated Mac version of Microsoft's presentation software focuses on rich media and sharing.

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Although PowerPoint started out in the late 1980s as a tool for the Macintosh, recent revisions for the Mac have always felt slightly dumbed-down in comparison with the Windows release. Some of that perception is my own fault, for sticking with Office 2004 well into this year. But Microsoft is also partly to blame; the company's policy of basing the Mac version of Office on "last year's" release of Office for Windows, with a slightly reduced feature set, guaranteed that the only people who were wowed by PowerPoint for Mac in recent years were die-hard Mac users. That is no longer the case.

Slide presentations are like whiskey; the craft that goes into the creation is lost through excess. Simply organizing a presentation with dozens of slides is a chore in itself, but this release of PowerPoint for Mac allows one to group slides into sections, making navigation and presentation less of a struggle. Sections can be named as desired, and, in the Slides pane, collapsed or expanded for more efficient browsing.

One of the hard things about creating truly fresh presentations in previous versions of PowerPoint was the amount of digging one had to do in order to pull the variety of media at one's fingertips into the slide deck. The Media Browser feature of PowerPoint 2011 is meant to offer a single-pane view of audio, clip art, movies, photos, shapes and symbols, by giving one-click access to the user's iPhoto library, iTunes playlists or Movies folder. Users who have gone to the trouble of tagging media with meaningful keywords can use those tags to filter searches, and preview found audio and video with the press of a button.

It's now possible to reduce the size of embedded images by rightsizing them for the way they'll be used; one can remove cropped regions from images in a presentation or reduce the pixel count to settings optimized for print (220 ppi), on-screen viewing (150 ppi) or e-mail delivery (96 ppi). One can make the change on an image-by-image basis or globally, as desired; this feature is especially useful when presentations are being circulated for review.

Because slides can contain a number of layered objects-especially when one is fond of animating slide builds-it's no longer enough to be able to send something to the back of the object stack, or bring it to the front. PowerPoint 2011's Dynamic Reordering feature provides a 3-D view of the object layers in a slide and allows the user to reorganize them as desired.

Another nifty feature is the addition of controls for embedded movies; one can pause, rewind, and fast forward a movie without leaving the presentation, or adjust the volume of an embedded movie without modifying the source media.

Power Point for Mac 2011 shares a number of new features with Word 2011 and Excel 2011, including sharing and co-authoring through SharePoint and Microsoft's SkyDrive service, and enhanced information rights-management tools. The PowerPoint Web App is available for online access to a stored document or to run a presentation.

It's nice to see PowerPoint getting back to its roots on the Macintosh platform. The enhanced toolset and the new sharing features finally set PowerPoint for Mac at rough parity with the Windows version, a state of affairs that is long overdue.