Apple Keynote 3
Keynote 3 is the latest iteration of Apple's slide-show-creation software, released in conjunction with Pages 2 as Apple iWork '06. Keynote is a pro-level tool, probably the application most able to compete with the 10-ton gorilla, Microsoft's. You can't buy Keynote 3 separately, so you'll have to determine for yourself whether it's worth paying for both programs, though the suite's price point is low enough so that it just doesn't matter.
Upon launch, Keynote 3 offers a range of themes that can set the overall look and feel of your presentation. If you want to stick with the provided themes as they are, you can use the application's basic interface--little but the project contents will be visible. For advanced work, you can call up toolbars with commonly used tools, a media browser integrated with the iLife applications, and a single Inspector window, which is a floating palette with tabs for layouts, tables, text formatting, charts, and more. Keynote 3 also includes a transparent palette for adjusting photos, much like in Apple's professional photo adjustment and management application,.
Keynote 3 faces an uphill battle against the entrenched Microsoft PowerPoint. But Keynote has, from its first incarnation, done some things better than PowerPoint, such as offer clean templates, antialiased text, and the ability to save presentations as cross-platform QuickTime movies. Keynote 3 expands on its past strengths by offering new templates, new cinematic transitions, a Light Table feature that allows you to view and organize all your slides at once, and textured 3D charts that you can rotate to any angle. This revision also moves beyond what we think of as presentation tools, with drawing tools that include Bezier curves, which can be used as alpha-channel masks that can reveal or cover underlying images. This feature can give your slides effects that previously weren't available in a slide-show application. You can include images pulled from iPhoto and video files, thanks to Keynote 3's easy-to-use media browser. The photos can also be tweaked within Keynote 3 via the new iPhoto-like Adjust Image palette.
In addition to exporting to a QuickTime movie, you can export your presentation directly to iDVD, preserving chapter breaks between slides. This is a nice feature, though tools for integrating audio are weak, in that they allow you to run only one sound file for the whole presentation, rather than assign different audio tracks to different slides. Also, though you can use a sound file as narration for your whole slide show, you can't record this narration directly in Keynote 3. And it's problematic that you lose many advanced features, such as antialiasing, when you export your Keynote presentation to the PowerPoint format.
The iWork '06 suite doesn't come with dedicated tech support, though Keynote 3's help function is relatively competent. If you're online, a menu item directs you to Apple's Keynote support Web pages, which offer articles on a good range of support topics and have links to community discussions. These discussions are moderated by Apple support employees, though when we visited these pages, the majority of issues seemed to be solved by civilians. One other issue with iWork '06's support is that there is no upgrade program; if you have iWork '05, you still have to pay full price to get iWork '06, and next year you will have to pay full price to get iWork '07.