In-Depth

PowerPoint 2007 Wins Fans

SmartArt and other new features clinch its spot as the must-have presentation tool.

PowerPoint certainly wins the popularity contest out of all the new Office 2007 applications. Of the four that readers have recently reviewed (Word, Excel and Outlook; for those stories, see the October, November and December 2007 issues of Redmond), PowerPoint 2007 earns the lion's share of praise.

While much of the criticism of Word and Excel 2007 centered on the ribbon interface, readers say the new interface in PowerPoint 2007 is easy to decipher and actually makes building presentations far more straightforward than in 2003.

"I love the ribbon in PowerPoint 2007," says Susan Hanley, an independent consultant based in Bethesda, Md. "For me, it's more intuitive than with the other Office 2007 products. I found features right away, whereas with Word and Excel it took me a little bit longer."

Hanley cautions, however, that she's more of an expert in Word and Excel than she is in PowerPoint. "I think power users tend to have trouble with the ribbon," she says. "Because I wasn't very good at PowerPoint before, now I feel like I'm much better at it because the ribbon makes things so much easier to find." This echoes other readers' sentiments regarding the ribbon interface being easier for beginners to grasp.

Steve Hohman, director of IT at Lightning Technology Group Inc. in Oldsmar, Fla., agrees. "I haven't come across anything that was easier in 2003 than in 2007," he says. "In most cases, I've found 2007 more intuitive."

SmartArt Seals the Deal
The main reason most readers give for upgrading to PowerPoint 2007 is SmartArt, which is PowerPoint's new designer-quality graphics tool with built-in professional-looking layouts, templates, themes and color palettes.

"The ideal PowerPoint is minimal words. It's finding a concept to keep the audience's attention instead of having them read the slides," Hohman says. "PowerPoint 2007 really does a great job because it makes building those images and concepts a lot easier, and it looks better, too."

Hohman says there's more variety to the templates that come with PowerPoint 2007 and they're easy to customize. For example, users can base a typical organizational chart on a hierarchy, matrix, an open format or a completely customized look.

"I just put in my concepts and adjust my bullet levels," Hohman says. "So if my primary concept is backups, and my next three bullet levels are daily, weekly and monthly, that's how I structure it -- just like if I were doing an outline in Word. That automatically translates over to my SmartArt."

Users no longer have to retype bullet lists or fuss with layout changes. "It's actually faster than in 2003, even though it has all these new features," Hohman says. "In 2003, you might have said this graphic template has five sub-concepts, but I only need four. So you would cut out the extra one and rearrange everything. In 2007, all you do is remove a bullet in the list. It removes the extra one and reorganizes it automatically. It's a lot easier."

Hanley says PowerPoint is on par with Microsoft's Visio diagramming tool, but its results are more visually appealing. "You can do the same kind of thing in Visio, but it's boring and two-dimensional," she says. "In PowerPoint 2007, there are pre-defined color codes and themes. You can easily make it three-dimensional, beveled, gradient-shaded or whatever."

Preview the Point
PowerPoint 2007, like the other tools in the Office 2007 suite, also lets users preview changes before making them. Because of all the design choices available in PowerPoint 2007, readers say the new preview feature is essential.

"The preview feature is important because before you commit to a style, it shows you exactly what it will look like," Hanley says. "You hover over it, see what it's going to look like and then you click to commit. That's a huge advantage."

Another key new feature in PowerPoint 2007 is the presenter view. Using two monitors, presenters can now run their PowerPoint presentation from one monitor (on a laptop at a podium, for example) while the audience views it on the second monitor. "I used to have to print out my notes and flip pages while I used the clicker to step through the presentation," Hanley says. "So this is a cool feature, especially for someone like me who doesn't tend to write a lot of words on their PowerPoint."

Hanley prefers to use PowerPoint slides to provide an image for people to view or a visual reminder of what she's trying to convey. "I want people to have something interesting to look at, but I don't want them to be reading slides because it's incredibly boring," she says. "And I don't want to read what the slides say, because that's even more boring."

By keeping her script separate, she can ensure that she stays on message and keeps the actual slide presentation crisp and clear. "I can see what I want to say on my screen, which I have to look at to click anyway, as opposed to shuffling through paper notes, which seems ridiculous."

Secure Sharing
PowerPoint 2007 also has several new features that make sharing presentations easier and more secure, including the new Document Inspector feature, the ability to save as a PDF and improved integration with SharePoint.

When he finished a presentation in PowerPoint 2007, Hohman says it prompted him to run the Document Inspector wizard. The new Document Inspector checks presentations for hidden metadata, personal information and other sensitive content stored within the presentation. It also checks comments, document properties, off-slide content and presentation notes.

"It pulled out my name and some other information," Hohman says. "It's a neat feature. It's kind of a check and balance to make sure that you don't send all your info across the planet."

Hanley says that she actually had used a third-party tool to handle similar inspection and removal functions in 2003, something she won't need with 2007. She also likes the ability to save a presentation in PDF format. This feature is common to all Office 2007 apps with a free download from Microsoft.

"I often share PowerPoint presentations on my Web site, so I like the idea that I can save them easily as a PDF," she says. "I had been using PDF converter software, but this saves me a step. It makes me feel like I'm protecting my own intellectual property, at least a little bit."

Hohman agrees, noting that it's especially useful since many of the people with whom he collaborates don't have Office 2007. "I save almost any Office document now as a PDF, because then I don't care what versions [of Office] other people have," he says. "They just need an Acrobat viewer, so it makes it easier."

The only downside to PowerPoint 2007, say readers, is its lack of collaborative features. For example, editing tools like spell check have been revamped, but there's still no good way to track changes when multiple people work on a single presentation. Your only choice is to insert comments in the presentation, which is a difficult way to track changes.

"The spell check is much better, and it's more context-aware," Hohman says. "If I needed to write the word 'for' but I typed 'from,' previously that would've been shown as a correct spelling. But in the new version, it's actually flagged as a misusage of the word, along with some suggestions. It looks at the context of how you're using the word and gives you the suggestions based on that."

Hanley agrees, and also wishes that PowerPoint had a better way to track revisions.

"That's the one thing I don't like about PowerPoint in general," she says. "It would be really nice if there was a track-changes feature like there is in Word, where you could highlight what you want to change and another person could see what you did. So 2007 is no easier when it comes to collaboration."

Another caveat with 2007 is that users can easily get carried away with all the graphic possibilities to the detriment of their overall presentation.

"People think they have to use all features," Hanley says. "When a tool is this easy to make changes, add colors and add graphics, you can tend to lose focus on the main point. You have to be careful about having too much of a good thing."

Microsoft PowerPoint 2007

More Plus than Minus
Overall, readers say PowerPoint 2007 is a must-have upgrade. "Upgrading to Office 2007 is a no-brainer," Hanley says, noting that her key reasons are the revamped calendars in Outlook and PowerPoint's SmartArt.

She particularly appreciates PowerPoint 2007 now that she's an independent consultant. "My secretary used to do all of my PowerPoints. I'd tell her what I wanted to say and she'd turn it into something pretty," she says. "I'm doing this by myself now. I can easily do things my secretary used to do, only faster."

More Information

SharePoint Integration Is Key
Using PowerPoint 2007 and SharePoint 2007 together eases collaboration and ensures secure, up-to-date presentations.

PowerPoint 2007's integration with SharePoint through the slide libraries makes both tools stronger. Users can create slides in PowerPoint 2007 and store them in a SharePoint library.

"Say I'm in the marketing department and I have a series of slides with a standard pitch about the company that I want people to use," Susan Hanley, an independent consultant based in Bethesda, Md., says. "Maybe I have one slide that shows the executive team and another that shows our locations. The problem is that everybody uses the last version of those slides they saved to their C drive, and they seldom come back and get the most recent version from the intranet or wherever it's stored."

When users store slides in a slide library within SharePoint, however, any other users wishing to see or edit them simply check them out of the library. When they check out the slides, they're asked if they want to maintain a link to the server version of the slides.

"If I say yes, I want to maintain that link, it keeps it up to date," Hanley says. "So even though it's stored on my C drive, the next time I open it, if the server version has been updated, I'll get prompted to take the update. Every time I try and use that presentation, I'll always get the most current, correct version of those slides. That's a huge productivity savings." -J.C.

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