Apple Takes on PowerPoint

Keynote presentation software rivals Microsoft's in key areas, especially in OS X environments.

Users of Apple Computer Inc.s Macintosh systems may treasure their Start Menu-less desktops, but theyve still had to turn to Microsoft Corp. for productivity software. Apples trying to change that, at least in part, with the release last month of Keynote 1.0, a presentation software application that competes head-on with Microsofts PowerPoint X.

Keynote is a 1.0 release and doesnt yet match all the features of PowerPoint, but it does provide an effective means for creating and delivering presentations with the Mac.

In eWeek Labs tests, Keynote impressed us with its clean interface, flexible import and export options, and its relatively low price—Keynote 1.0 costs $99, compared with a stunning $399 for a stand-alone copy of Microsofts presentation software offering for Mac OS X, PowerPoint X. Microsoft charges an additional $100 for the entire Mac office suite, which includes Word, Excel and the Entourage groupware client.

On the other end of the spectrum, OpenOffice.orgs Impress, along with the rest of the suite, can be downloaded for free.

Keynote includes filters for importing PowerPoint presentations, and Keynote can also save in PowerPoint format, QuickTime and PDF. Wed like to see support for the Impress file format added as well.

Although Keynotes PowerPoint filters should prove helpful for cross-platform presentation sharing, the conversions arent seamless. The PowerPoint presentations that we imported into Keynote required minor tweaks. For one such file, we had to enlarge or slightly move some text boxes, and an image that had a transparent background in PowerPoint showed up in Keynote with a magenta background.

Companies planning on collaboratively building presentations across different platforms would do better to stick with PowerPoint or to use OpenOffice.orgs Impress presentation application, which supports Windows, Linux and Solaris and comes in a beta version for the Mac as well.

In tests with the PowerPoint filters in Impress, we had to tweak our files in much the same way as with Keynote. Without open file formats, its tough to expect much more from cross-application filters.

Keynote is a great fit for OS X—the slick graphics and font handling that distinguish Apples operating system pay dividends when creating and giving presentations. This was particularly the case with Keynotes video handling. We could drag two QuickTime movies into a presentation, one overlapping the other; reduce the opacity of the top clip; and watch both playing at once—overkill for sure but impressive nonetheless.

Keynote 1.0 runs on Mac OS X Version 10.2 or later and requires 256MB of RAM and 8MB of video memory. Although Keynote does not require Apples Quartz Extreme to operate, Mac systems that have this technology will deliver the best performance.

One of the simplest, yet most compelling features of Keynote is its align guides for slide elements. We could drag around a text box or graphic, and a horizontal or vertical yellow line would appear on-screen to alert us that wed reached horizontal or vertical alignment.

We could also align elements by selecting them and choosing the appropriate command from a context menu, as were accustomed to doing with other applications of this type, but those yellow align guide lines help to encourage a drag-and-drop, on-the-fly slide design process thats reinforced by the rest of the application.

For example, adjustments to the opacity, shadowing or characteristics of our slide elements took effect immediately, without an intervening preview or "OK" stage as in PowerPoint.

Apple ships Keynote with 12 attractive presentation themes and boasts a number of interesting slide transitions and effects, including some impressive three-dimensional transitions.

Keynote is a 1.0 product, and there are a few features wed like to see added in the next version. Among them is a crop tool, without which cropped elements from PowerPoint end up coming in squashed, rather than cropped.

In addition, any audio thats playing along with a slide in Keynote currently stops when you switch slides; in PowerPoint, audio can play continuously.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at