By Jay Garmon
Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 boasts some major improvements over previous versions of Microsoft's presentation software, but are these changes enough to justify purchasing Office 2010? We break it down in this review.
It should be noted that many of the PowerPoint upgrades I detail below are not available in the PowerPoint Web App, which has limited functionality.
Office 2007 threw out the basic menu interface that all Office apps used for the last decade and replaced it with the ribbon, a new menu system that hid many functions behind a system of tabs. This radical change was met with much resistance, and Microsoft has responded by revising the 2010 ribbon to make it simpler, cleaner, and more Office 2003-like.
For example, Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 now has a standalone Transitions menu. Simply hover your mouse over a transition icon and PowerPoint 2010 will automatically demonstrate how that transition would affect the selected slide. It's quick, intuitive, and simple - and the transitions are pretty good, too.
The File menu also makes a triumphant return in PowerPoint 2010 after being removed in favor of a glowing Microsoft Office logo orb in PowerPoint 2007. However, rather than the traditional drop-down menu or a more modern ribbon menu-band, clicking on the PowerPoint 2010 File menu activates the Backstage view.
As with all Office 2010 applications, Microsoft PowerPoint 2010's Backstage view contains all the saving, sharing, and printing controls for your presentations. Backstage hides the presentation you're actively editing in favor of a full screen of controls for these functions.
A couple of remarkable bells and whistles are hiding in PowerPoint 2010's Backstage, such as the ability to export a presentation as an HD video or to prepare an autorun CD or DVD-ROM of your presentation.
When saving, sharing or exporting presentations, PowerPoint 2010 also gives you the option of compressing any embedded media - images, sound effects or videos - you've included in a slideshow. This is important, as PowerPoint 2010 no longer restricts file sizes of embedded sound files; you can throw a full CD-quality audio track into a slideshow now without fear. The compression comes in very handy if you're not burning a presentation to its own disk, but are sharing it via a local network or the Internet.
Sharing and Collaboration
Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 allows you to save a presentation directly to Skydrive, Microsoft's free Web-based storage service. (Access requires a Microsoft Live account, but Hotmail and MSN Messenger users already have one.) Presentations stored there can be private, public or shared only with selected users. If you plan on keeping your presentations on Skydrive, you'll be thankful for PowerPoint's automatic file compressions. While it would take a bit of doing to use up your 25 gigabytes of free storage, repeatedly downloading large media-rich slideshows can be a serious pain.
If you store your PowerPoint 2010 presentations on a local network or VPN, you can invoke collaborative editing, which lets multiple users edit the same file simultaneously. If you're working on the opening section and your partner is building data graphs for a later section, you can both build your own slides in the same file at the same time.
All Office 2010 applications, PowerPoint included, invoke Protected View for any suspicious documents. Presentations opened in Protected View cannot be edited, but they also cannot run macros or call active system processes. Protected View prevents malware from using PowerPoint as an attack vector. Any file downloaded from the Internet (Skydrive excepted) or from an email attachment is automatically opened in Protected View. To edit the presentations, simply click the Enable Editing button. The documents will open normally from this point forward, but the initial Protected View lets you scan a document before giving it free run on your PC.
Enhanced Media Capture and Editing
Perhaps the most significant changes to Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 involve media capture and editing, much of which is demonstrated in this Microsoft video.
Embedding videos from websites such as YouTube is now phenomenally easy; simply click the Insert | Video icon and select the From Web Site option. You're presented with a text field for pasting the embedded code provided by YouTube or a similar site.
The process for embedding locally stored video files is similar, but also presents more options. PowerPoint 2010 (and Office 2010 in general) now offers built-in basic video editing tools, including the ability to trim videos from within PowerPoint. Only want the first 10 seconds of a video? PowerPoint lets you select the clip from the video without opening a video-editing program. When you compress a finished presentation, the unused portions of the video are discarded from the slideshow file.
PowerPoint 2010 boasts even more robust internal image-editing tools. Once you insert an image in a slide, a number of effects icons are made available. Hovering over the icons temporarily alters the embedded image to display the associated effect, be it a rounded edge or a heightened contrast ratio. You can even perform basic background removal on embedded PowerPoint 2010 photos as well as create screen captures from within PowerPoint 2010.
Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 gains some solid ground over PowerPoint 2007, especially if you regularly build media-rich presentations. That said, while many of the new internal media-editing tools in PowerPoint 2010 are convenient, they fall well short of those functions found in full-fledged image and video editing programs. Thus, PowerPoint 2010 is aimed at a relatively narrow constituency: users that build fairly media-rich slideshows, but who are not so advanced that they would use Photoshop or the like to create their media components. If you need to tweak high-end presentations on the fly or collaborate with multiple presenters, PowerPoint 2010 has a serious edge over its previous versions. If none of these descriptors apply to you, odds are an older install of PowerPoint will still suffice.
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