Presentation software improves with age

Presentation software improves with age

At first glance, it's easy to dismiss Keynote 3 as a minor upgrade - even the icon hasn't changed. But lurking beneath the surface are many new features Keynote users have been clamouring for. Although the program still isn't perfect, those enhancements make Keynote an even more compelling alternative to Microsoft PowerPoint 2004.

One of the features most requested by Keynote fans was a better set of built-in graphics tools. While you still need a dedicated program such as Adobe Illustrator for complex illustrations, iWork's beefed-up graphics tools should be adequate for most users. The new free-form Shape tool with Bezier-curve support is especially welcome. Keynote also now supports resizing of grouped objects, a feature that has been near the top of my wish list since the initial release. Like Pages 2, Keynote now lets you do basic image editing via a translucent, iPhoto-like palette with controls for changing brightness, contrast and other parameters. Since adjustments affect the way Keynote displays the image, not the underlying image itself, you can undo changes at any time with a single click.

Image masking, first introduced in Keynote 2 is also greatly improved. In Keynote 3, you can use geometric shapes to reveal any part of an underlying image -- handy when you want to cut Aunt Edna out of a family picture, for instance. The new reflection effect places an inverted, semitransparent copy below any selected image to make it look as though it were propped up on a shiny surface. (The effect doesn't work for QuickTime movies, however.) Keynote's theme library includes a few more choices than before, and several themes are now available in higher resolutions, up to 1920 x 1080 pixels. The Slide Inspector has several clever 3D-transition options, including one that simulates a revolving door.

Bullets, builds and charts

Another feature high on many wish lists was support for more than one bulleted text box per slide. That wish has been granted. Keynote 3 lets you add bullets to any text box. And because Keynote 3 lets you individually style each paragraph in a bulleted text box, you can now do things like display two text bullets, insert a picture, and then proceed with the remaining bullet points. Doing the same thing in Keynote 2 required splitting the builds across several slides. Keynote 3 also supports builds in masters, so you no longer have to edit builds slide by slide.

In addition to 2D charts and graphs, iWork '06 sports 3D charts with interactive controls that let you tweak the lighting and alter the viewer's perspective; the expanded chart repertoire includes scatter plots. Keynote's tables now function like rudimentary spreadsheets: in addition to simply displaying static text and numbers, you can perform simple calculations such as addition and multiplication on a range of table cells, and you can tell Keynote to sort table rows based on the contents of any column.

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