PowerPoint 2007 Presents a Strong Case

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted May 31, 2007

Our look at changes, good and bad, to major components in Microsoft Office 2007 continues with a look at PowerPoint 2007, the latest version of the popular business presentation program.

Like Word 2007 and Excel 2007, which we reviewed earlier, PowerPoint uses the new Office user interface, which the company is now calling the Microsoft Office Fluent interface. It replaces menu and tool bars and vertical text menus with a "ribbon" and tabbed panels that drop down and stretch across the screen, graphically depicting groups of functions.

In the other reviews, we expressed reservations concerning the new interface. Suffice to say here that, while it may in the long run increase productivity and creativity by making it easier for users to find and interact with commonly used — and also little used but valuable — features, it will also require some re-learning, and entail some frustration, for experienced users of earlier versions.

Previous Office 2007 Reviews

»» A Word of Advice

»»  Calculated Change in Excel

Also, like the other programs in the Office suite, this new version of PowerPoint doesn't give you as much opportunity as earlier versions to customize the way the program works. You'll need to jetizon some existing customizations, including macros, in the transition to PowerPoint 2007. Finally, the program stores presentations in a new format that takes up less space — but cannot be opened by earlier versions of the program.

Significant ImprovementWith that out of the way, let's turn to the good news. PowerPoint 2007 does include some substantial changes and inarguable improvements.

Some are Office-wide features that we've talked about in previous reviews. Changes to Microsoft Office spell checker, for example, make it easier for semi-literate presentation authors to avoid embarrassment — it now catches misuse of homonyms (sound-alike words with different spellings), and it lets you enter a list of words or phrases to avoid using, and flags them when you do.

You can now save slides and presentations as PDF or XML Paper Specification (XPS) files within PowerPoint. (XPS preserves your formatting and ensures that data cannot be changed easily by others with whom you share the file.) New security features let you add a digital signature to a presentation, strip out private meta data before publishing and mark a presentation or slide as final version so that it's read only.

Other changes are more specific to PowerPoint or have more specific application in this program. Here's a list of what seems to me most important:

  • New SmartArt graphics let you create editable designer-quality diagrams and charts.
  • One-click universal application of themes, layouts and Quick Styles makes it easier to create good looking presentations with a consistent look and feel.
  • The capability to create custom slide layouts makes it easier to customize presentations while preserving consistency.
  • A new Presenter view lets you show a presentation to the audience on one monitor while previewing upcoming slides and reading speaker notes from another screen.
  • Storing slides in a library on a Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 means users can share and reuse slides, and avoid re-inventing the wheel.

Smart GraphicsIn earlier versions of PowerPoint, you could create custom charts and diagrams by laboriously combining clip art, shapes and text, but for professional-looking results you'd have to go out to a designer. The artwork you got back would look nice, but typically could not be changed or edited. With SmartArt, you can create lists, diagrams and charts with a polished, designed look — and the text and graphics elements can be changed at any point in the authoring process.

Choose SmartArt in the Insert menu, and select the diagram you want from the pop-up dialog. When you click on a piece of SmartArt, you see an enlarged view of it and a description of its intended use. You'll find art for lists, processes, cycles, hierarchies, relationships, matrices and pyramids — with a few designs for some categories, several for others.

PowerPoint 2007: SmartArt
PowerPoint 2007's SmartArt graphics let you create editable designer-quality diagrams and charts. (Click for larger image)

When you click OK in the SmartArt dialog, PowerPoint inserts the selected art in the slide and pops up a dialog beside it with fields for entering text in each diagram element. Also, the Design tab automatically drops down from the ribbon. Enter your text, resize the diagram if necessary by dragging the handles in the corners of the bounding box and drag and drop to relocate it if you don't like the default centered position. You can also change color scheme and other attributes by choosing pictured options in the Design tab.

PowerPoint 2007 also makes it easier to apply themes, the master designs that determine font, colors, text formatting, graphic treatment and so on for an entire document, slide or presentation. In the past, you had to change colors manually for charts, diagrams or graphics to ensure they matched the theme selected. Now when you choose a theme it automatically applies to graphics elements as well. You can select themes visually from the Design tab — and Microsoft has added new themes with PowerPoint 2007 — or download them, as in the past, from the Web.

Consistent Look and FeelOne other way earlier versions of PowerPoint helped give slide presentations an all-important consistent look and feel was with master slide layouts, templates for positioning elements — titles, text and graphic elements — on a slide. You selected a master layout and simply typed or clicked in the "placeholders" to insert content. But in the past, you could only choose pre-designed slide layouts.

Now you can create your own from within the Slide Master tab, which automatically drops down from the ribbon when you select Slide Master in the Presentation Views group on the Views tab. You can delete, resize or reposition the few placeholders in the basic default master and add, size and position new elements by selecting Insert Placeholder, choosing a category of placeholder (text, picture, chart, table and so on.) and drawing a box in the slide window where you want it to appear.

The new Presenter view is potentially a huge improvement for managing presentations. Many modern laptops support a dual-monitor mode that lets you attach a second monitor and display information on both the laptop screen and the other monitor. With the new Presenter view in PowerPoint 2007, you can show different information on each.

PowerPoint 2007: SmartArt
In PowerPoint 2007, you can "publish" individual slides from a presentation to a library so they're available for your colleagues to use. (Click for larger image)

The second monitor, which the audience sees, displays only the slides. The laptop screen displays Presenter view, which shows a film-reel preview of the next slides in the presentation and previews the text that will appear with the next mouse click — either the next slide or the next bullet point on the current slide. Presenter view also displays the speaking notes in large, clear type making them easy to read. It shows the elapsed time in your presentation, and it lets you select slides out of sequence.

The Corporate Slide LibraryThe capability to store individual slide files in a corporate or departmental slide library could also deliver important benefits, but you need to be running PowerPoint 2007 and be connected to a network server running Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. It won't work with earlier versions of either product.

This feature lets you "publish" your slides to a library so they're available for others to use. You can also add slides from the library to your presentation. When you do that, the slide remains linked to the library, and if an author changes the slide — updates the sales data in a chart, for example — the system automatically updates the slide in your presentation, too.

This offers two benefits: You're assured of having up-to-date, accurate information in your presentation, and authors can reuse each others work to avoid repeating effort.

There are some additional minor changes. You can now format text with all the standard options available in Word — all caps, small caps, strikethrough, double strikethrough and double or color underline. Microsoft has redesigned tables and charts and made them somewhat easier to work with — though this is mainly a function of the new Fluent interface.

Bottom LineIf your business life revolves around giving PowerPoint presentations, PowerPoint 2007, which you can purchase on its own as an upgrade for about $100 or as part of one of the various Office 2007 bundles ($150 to $680), is definitely worth considering. The Presenter view on its own could be a godsend. And if your organization has several people giving presentations who sometimes need to use the same slides, the capability to set up a slide library on an Office SharePoint server could also be worth the price of admission. On the other hand, f you only occasionally use PowerPoint, you can probably live without the new version.

Be sure to read our reviews on the other major applications in Microsoft Office 2007: Word, Excel and Outlook.

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