PowerPoint is the best-known software for creating slide shows, whether they're used in a grade school history class, for a corporate sales pitch, or in conference speeches. As with the rest of the Office 2007, the changes to PowerPoint are ambitious and drastic. The new interface rearranges every function you may have memorized, and the file formats are different. Plus, while you can hide the Ribbon by double-clicking on a tab, there's no going back to a "classic" view of PowerPoint that better resembles 2007's predecessors.
Our installation of various Office editions on Windows XP computers took between 10 and 20 minutes, which was quicker than previous editions of Office. You'll have to be online to access some services, such as Help and How-To as well as Clip Art and document templates. Our reviews of Microsoft Office 2007 detail the installation process and the particulars of each edition.
Interface Once PowerPoint is up and running, you'll find that each command is in a new place. The new program is more visually focused, so colorful icons describe many features. PowerPoint 2007 adopts the tabbed, top-heavy Ribbon toolbar also found in Word and Excel 2007. The File menu is gone, its commands moved beneath the Office logo in the corner. We were perplexed by the arrangement of some features on the Ribbon, mostly with features that we expected to be on the Insert tab. New Slide is on the Home tab, not on Insert, for example. Many tabs won't appear until you select an item on the page. Clicking on a picture triggers the Picture Tools formatting tab to display. The same process applies when working with images, sounds, charts, drawing tools, and SmartArt. If your computer already has software installed that integrates with Office 2007, PowerPoint and other applications will display an Add-Ins tab. In our case, the Add-Ins tab showed commands from a third-party video-capture application.
There are some useful little tweaks as well. Right-clicking the mouse when hovering over text within a slide will display a mini formatting toolbar and drop-down menu. Right-clicking the mouse within a chart brings up editing tools specific to the chart. Power users can press the ALT key to display keyboard shortcuts. We find the strongest selling point of PowerPoint 2007 to be the dynamic galleries of images that put a variety of three-dimensional styles at your fingertips and render them live on the page before you click.
Features Designed to help you get a point across with images, PowerPoint 2007 makes some useful adjustments. Drop-down menus of styles, WordArt, and slide animations let you roll your mouse over them to preview a change on the page before you finalize it. You won't need a design degree to create a good-looking slide show. The color themes are more attractive overall than in 2003, and once you pick one, your theme will apply to the other preview galleries. There are loads of new document templates, many of which you can find at Microsoft's Web site, and you can customize your own. Next to the more elegant-looking styles from PowerPoint 2007, slide shows made in PowerPoint 2003 might look pretty flat.
However, some newbies to 2007 may find it tricky to grasp the ever-changing galleries, which can be clumsy to work with. For example, you must precisely arrange your view of a page when applying styles to prevent the drop-down menu from obscuring the changes. Sometimes we couldn't benefit from the live previews because a small picture on the page was hidden by its connected style gallery. We found SmartArt less than intuitive to use. This feature lets you create attractive flowcharts, pyramids, and other diagrams, but when we selected bulleted text to convert to SmartArt, the big button on the Insert tab didn't do the trick. The correct conversion button was a tiny item beneath the Home tab (you can also right-click the mouse).
PowerPoint offers new options for safely sharing slide shows, which should be handy if your presentation is under a nondisclosure agreement. The Prepare options beneath the Office button let you edit metadata and remove potentially embarrassing changes. When you choose Inspect Document, Document Properties will appear below the Ribbon toolbar so you can change the author name, comments, and more. The Review tab helpfully clusters commenting and spellchecking. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn't created a way to instantly upload a presentation so you can take it on the road and access it from an online account. For that, you'll need Microsoft Groove or SharePoint server tools. You could also install a free add-in from the third-party, such as Zoho's Web-based presentations software. Zoho's application, however, remains in a rough state and lacks a lot of PowerPoint's functionality.
However, there's not much new in the way of managing multimedia files. When we clicked away from the audio icon, we had a hard time later finding the sound to edit it. An audio icon appears within the center-pane view of a slide, but it's hard to see within the thumbnails when you're scrolling through the pages. Nor are there tie-ins to Microsoft's Web-based products, such as MSN Soapbox Video, to let you make dynamic presentations that integrate online content.
Microsoft's new, default Open XML file formats could be a pain if you send and receive presentations with users who might be running older software. The new file extension for PowerPoint 2007 is PPTX. People with PowerPoint 2000 and 2003 can only open PPTX files after they install a converter. If you use PowerPoint 2007 to save a backward-compatible, PPT file, all the dynamic images and styles will flatten. Once you convert a PPT document back to PPTX, that flattened content should return to its original state. Our guide to Office 2007's file compatibility explains more.
Luckily, PowerPoint integrates better than ever with other Office 2007 applications. It's great that you can preview presentations from e-mails within Outlook 2007, for instance. And you can embed an Excel chart within a presentation and see the chart change while you edit the data in Excel in a different window.
Service and support
Boxed editions of Microsoft Office 2007 include a decent, 174-page Getting Started guide. During the first 90 days, you can contact tech support for free, and help at any time with any security-related or virus problems is also free. Beyond that, paid support costs a painfully high $49 per telephone or e-mail incident. Luckily, Microsoft's online help is excellent, although we're displeased that Microsoft and other software makers are increasingly promoting do-it-yourself assistance. We especially like the PowerPoint help, which walks you through where commands have moved since Office 2003. You can also pose questions to the large community of Microsoft Office users via free support forums and chats. Microsoft Office Diagnostics tool, included with the Office 2007 suites, is also designed to detect and repair problems if something goes haywire.
Is PowerPoint 2007 worth the upgrade? Probably not, if you rarely use the program. Other than the new graphical styles and dynamic galleries, there's not much new here. At the same time, PowerPoint's live graphical previews, SmartArt, and easy-to-pick design templates could make the difference between a sales pitch and a sales contract for some professionals. If you don't want your older PowerPoint presentations to be overshadowed by more up-do-date-looking ones crafted by someone who has already upgraded, then the 2007 edition will be worth your while.