Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2003 / 19 Adar I 5763

Apple's Keynote is PowerPoint for less

By Mark Kellner | Can there be a presentation graphics program for under $100 that can challenge Microsoft?s PowerPoint, and on a Mac, no less? That?s the premise behind Apple Computer's Keynote, a $99.95 program that seeks to rival the Microsoft-created undisputed world leader in such software. (If you don't believe me, examine the May 28, 2001 issue of The New Yorker -- yes, The New Yorker -- which claimed that 250 million licensed copies of Microsoft Corp.'s PowerPoint were used globally to create or deliver 30 million presentations daily.)

On the face of it, the challenge seems audacious and a bit unnecessary. Microsoft has been, for several years, the premiere supplier of business productivity applications for the Mac, and there's been little reason to expect that to change. Word and Excel still dominate the Mac platform, particularly in the OS X arena.

But Apple has its own reasons, and perhaps it decided to create and launch Keynote just to show it can be done. Of course, users will get a benefit as well -- and a substantial one at that.

I tested a copy of Keynote, announced at the Macworld Expo last January and now in stores, on a system that many globe-trotting Mac users would carry: a PowerBook G4 with 256 MB of RAM and a 20 GB hard disk drive.

First off is the obvious savings in price: On its own, PowerPoint v.X (stet) costs just under $400 when purchased from a mail order firm such as MacConnection; as part of the Microsoft Office v.X package, the total cost is around $500, making the unit cost of the application a bit less. But if, for whatever reason, you need to merely buy a presentation program, buying Keynote saves you 75 to 80 percent of the equivalent Microsoft stand-alone application, or suite price.

Second, you don't lose any compatibility with PowerPoint -- at least none that I've seen. Opening a bunch of PowerPoint-created presentations in Keynote was a breeze, although a 5 MB file did choke the program a bit, although it sailed into PowerPoint, however. Most of us don?t usually create files that large, and the more moderate PowerPoint files I imported into Keynote worked flawlessly.

Reversing direction, I was able to create a Keynote presentation, export it into PowerPoint?s format and then click on the saved file to have it open in PowerPoint without a hitch.

This exercise in file compatibility is more than academic: in today's corporate world, many of those 30 million daily PowerPoint presentations rely on "corporate standard" templates and layouts that users are required to employ. The ability to import and export presentations that work with PowerPoint isn't an option. (Indeed, the inability, for many years, of Lotus' Freelance Graphics to easily integrate with PowerPoint may have doomed it to a niche market, but I digress.)

Working with Keynote offers a more streamlined palate than that found in PowerPoint, but I didn't notice many major features missing. Selecting a theme for a slide presentation, adding additional slides and then editing and arranging these was not at all a problem. The software's main work area is cleaner and better organized -- to this reviewer -- than is PowerPoint, and I had no difficulty editing and modifying my slide designs.

Of course, these are early days for Keynote, and perhaps there is some dedicated PowerPoint maven who will find one or more areas where Keynote falls short. However, for the vast majority of computer users and presentation-makers, Keynote should be more than adequate and even a welcome alternative to the complexity -- and pricing -- of PowerPoint.

Which, of course, begs a question Apple is probably not keen to answer: Why don't they truly beard the lion and release a version of Keynote for the Windows user? Fighting hegemony still has its appeals, and the office application arena is a good place to start.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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