Microsoft PowerPoint 2007: Improved, But...

PowerPoint 2007 boasts a new user interface and a slew of useful new features, but also requires some re-learning -- and some frustration -- for experienced users.


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Posted September 28, 2007

Gerry Blackwell

Gerry Blackwell

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As with Word 2007 and Excel 2007, 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 it 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 seldom used but still valuable ? features, it will also require some re-learning, and likely entail some frustration, for experienced users of earlier versions.

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 the new format cannot be opened by earlier versions of the program.

Significant Improvement

With 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. As an example, PowerPoint now catches the misuse of homonyms (sound-alike words with different spellings), and it also 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 metadata before publishing, and mark presentations or slides as final versions so that they're read only.

Other changes in the 2007 edition are more specific to PowerPoint or have more specific application in this program. Here's a brief list of some of the enhancements and feature additions we believe to be the 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 Graphics

In 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 hire or use a designer. The artwork you got back would look nice, but typically could not be changed or edited.

With SmartArt in PowerPoint 2007 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.

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.

Next page: The Slide Library

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