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PowerPoint 2011: Office Gets Good Looking

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I’m not really one for presentations. I’ve given talks before, but I like to do it old-school, without visual aids. I have, however, prepared presentations for others, so I know my way around PowerPoint (s msft), which is why the new version for Mac (s aapl) really caught me by surprise.

Let me start by saying that if you’ve given up on Office for Mac after the disappointment of 2008, you should have another look at the latest offering. I feel like the Mac department over at Microsoft is finally getting the support and resources it needs from corporate to give its products a fighting chance alongside Apple’s own offerings.

General impressions aside, here’s what you need to know about the new PowerPoint.

More Windows and More Mac, All at Once

Amazingly, Microsoft managed to make the new PowerPoint interface feel more like its Windows-based twin, while also changing the design so that it looks more at home on the Mac desktop. One of the features that helped the new design is the inclusion of the ribbon. Yes, it’s a controversial feature, and many Windows users don’t like it, but I’ve grown accustomed to using it, and I welcome its inclusion on the Mac side of things.

The ribbon in PowerPoint 2011.

The ribbon, for those who haven’t tried any recent editions of Office for Windows, resides at the top of your interface underneath the tool bar. Commands and tools are organized by sections, like “Home,” “Theme,” “Charts,” “Slide Show,” etc. If you’re used to hunting around in menus for Office commands, you probably won’t like them, but for those new to the suite, it’s a much more logical means of organization.

Office 2011’s ribbon has all the same content as the Windows version, but it looks decidedly Mac, as you can see from the screenshots, so there’s no confusing what environment you’re working in. You can easily hide or show the ribbon, so it doesn’t get in the way of the presentation you’re working on. You can also customize it by rearranging tabs and changing commands, so there’s really no reason to dislike it unless you just prefer things not change.

Slide Layers Make Everything Easier

It’s hard for me to even convey how frustrating it is to manipulate the order of objects in past versions of PowerPoint, especially in presentations and slides where you’ve got a lot going on. I used to work at a company where we used PowerPoint as print publishing software, so that should give you some idea of how complicated layouts could get.

The new Reorder Objects tool in PowerPoint 2011 allows you to easily manipulate even the most complicated slides pretty easily. It looks like the new Windows 7 Flip 3D feature, fills your whole screen, and lets you click and drag layers to rearrange. No more hoping this is the last time you have to click “Send Backward.”

Media Manipulation

PowerPoint 2011 approaches the simplicity Keynote has in terms of adding media. You can use the Media Browser to drop photos, music and video in from various sources, including your iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie libraries. Even Aperture showed up in the source menu in my tests.

You can also edit stuff more easily — and with more options — from within the app. Doing basic retouching on photos is quite easy, and about on par with what you can do in iPhoto, only without having to leave the app. PowerPoint also has some other neat image editing functions, like the Remove Background tool I used to cut out Justin Long and John Hodgman in the screenshot below in about 30 seconds.

Better Cross-Platform Access and Collaboration

Working together with distributed teams is easier with the new PowerPoint, since you can collaborate wirelessly in real time, and communicate with each other via Live Messenger or Communicator. Plus, you can access and make changes to your presentations on the go with the PowerPoint web app. Finally, publishing your slide show to the web so that it’s viewable by others is a snap, and your audience doesn’t need to have the program to take part.

There are still some limitations to using PowerPoint 2011 on the Mac. You can’t access your presentations on the web from your iPhone’s or iPad’s browser, for example, and I still think presentations made in Keynote might look a little better, too.

Overall, that’s about all I have to say against PowerPoint 2011. Earlier today on Twitter I asked how many still used Office for Mac in some capacity, and was surprised to find that a lot of you still do. That Microsoft is delivering software at this level is great news for those users. If I was still in the business of regularly making presentations, this is definitely the tool I’d use to get the job done. In fact, it may just inspire me to include a slideshow the next time I give a talk.

Stay tuned to TheAppleBlog for coverage of what’s new in the rest of the Office 2011 suite, too.

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7 Responses to “PowerPoint 2011: Office Gets Good Looking”

  1. I’m an iWork user, but I like the new Office. Yesterday, I made a presentation in the new PowerPoint, and it was a great experience.

    I do have a few complaints though. The first one is the background removal tool. iWork’s has a higher success rate and is easier to use. I ended up putting many objects in Pages to remove the background there, and then pasted them in PowerPoint. The second one is that often, I see changes only after clicking OK; a notable offender is image recolors. It is a nightmare when you have to close the color palette to see how you changed the image, reopen it, click a color, close, check, call up the palette, click a color, check… My third complaint is the non-floating, non Ribbon-placed customization windows. Windows that don’t let you click the main window are horrible. Do away with them, Microsoft! The fourth big problem is units. PowerPoint uses inches, except when it uses centimeters. I want pixels though! Where can I change the measuring units, or at least keep them from randomly changing? Then, there are two minor issues. The first one is the animation order window – thankfully, it’s floating, but iWork’s somehow has better overview. It’s not bad though. The second one is guidelines. They’re not very visible, and center guides are movable (thus missing the point of them) – I often ended up moving the guide instead of the picture, and even Cmd + Z didn’t place the guide back where it should be; often, I couldn’t even drag it precisely to the center, and there’s also no option to reset their locations.

    It might sound like a horrible experience, but most of the time, it wasn’t. The new PowerPoint is great in many ways. Pros to Microsoft for this one!

  2. Alastair

    The fact that you used to use Power Point as print publishing software disqualifies you from reviewing software, Darrell. That’s just insanity. I wont even bother justifying my claim.

    You don’t even mention all the new features in PPT 2011, or make any kind of comparison with Keynote. Then you conclude this is the presentation software you would use if you had to make business presentations. Who pays your wage, dude?

    Good bye and keep the great views like your recent one of the N&B ‘iPad killer’ coming the world needs more half-qualified fools expressing them-self.

  3. Are you nuts? Office 2008 a disappointment? Its by far my (and many MANY others) fav version of office ever…

    Addition of a ribbon? Are you kidding me? What a convoluted mess and step backwards. 2008 is super streamlined…just about everything you ever need is in one place…the toolbox…you never have to hunt for anything…

    Sorry…but no sale on this…i’ll keep 2008

  4. i use office for mac for the sole purpose that basically 98% of the rest of my college does, and its easier just working in it natively than having to worry about exporting slides into powerpoint and hoping they still show up correctly.

    lets pray they finally make a widecreen presentation the default though; who uses 4:3 anymore?