PowerPoint 2010: Building a better toaster

To say that Office 2007 weathered difficult conditions in its five-year run is an understatement. Despite an impressive feature set and relatively high stability and performance, legions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint users resisted the move, in some cases with all their will and might.

These people never had any reason to complain about their File, Edit, and View menus, and yet Microsoft took them away. These people regard Microsoft Office as an appliance—a device that they don’t have to think too hard about before using. And then the appliance became unfamiliar. With all of your projects due yesterday, the last thing you want is for your toaster to suddenly start operating like a food processor.

My friends at Microsoft will look unkindly upon my equating PowerPoint to a $35 kitchen appliance, while my friends in the PowerPoint community have taken a dim view of Microsoft’s failure to do the same. Both sides should rejoice, therefore, in the likelihood that Version 2010 promises to put an end to all of the toaster talk. With five years to have become accustomed to the Ribbon, users of PowerPoint 2010 can focus not on how it looks, but on what it does. And when they do, odds are they are going to like what they find. You can see for yourself in the ongoing public beta.

Better Multimedia

Topping the headlines is dramatically better handling of audio and video. Simply put, PowerPoint now knows what the heck to do with imported media, instead of pawning the job off on Windows Media Player and going into virtual hibernation. Taking ownership over multimedia has enabled PowerPoint to join the 21st century. To wit:

  • The range of formats supported is much wider.
  • Files can either be embedded or linked to, and you get to choose at the time of import.
  • Clips can be trimmed within the program, with intros fading in and outros fading out.
  • Videos can run simultaneous to other slide events and objects can be placed atop a video.
  • You can insert videos directly from YouTube and other online sites (done live, requiring an Internet connection).
  • When embedding a clip, the Optimize Media Compatibility command automatically improves playback quality.
  • Slide decks can be saved out as stand-alone video files.
  • Videos can be cropped and placed inside non-rectangular shapes.
  • Bookmarks can be defined within a clip and other elements can have their animations triggered to those bookmarks.

This last feature is the likely sleeper in the bunch as this brand new concept will be foreign to many. But the creative control that bookmarking a video can give you over training material or mood-evoking content is potentially dramatic. Those who are already working with the beta (or who just downloaded it—see link above) can see an example I have created at


In this file, I use techniques that would never have occurred to me prior to version 2010.

Customization: Baby Steps

Of those who have shown disdain for the Office Ribbon, many have done so simply because the Ribbon is not as flexible as version 2003 menus. Indeed, in version 2003 you can place a command anywhere you want; in version 2007 you can only add a command to the Quick Access Toolbar, the row of tiny icons along the top.

In version 2010, you can add a custom group to a ribbon and place commands there. It would be better if commands could be added to existing groups—for instance, the cool new Shape commands belong in the Drawing group, and instead I had to create a new Shapes group to house them. I wish that I could remove elements also, as program developers do not know as well as I which commands I use and do not use. And ideally, we could turn off the auto-switching of the Office Ribbon and then make one killer ribbon with everything we normally use that would always be visible. (LOL, this would get us back to version 2003 functionality!)

But this is progress—we can now create better access to critical commands. The version 2010 interface is also more keystroke-friendly. That’s like tactile gold for us keystroke-aholics.

The Customize dialog box includes dozens of commands that you won’t find on the standard interface. To add them in, you create a custom group on your ribbon of choice.

Slice and Dice your Slide Deck

Another potential sleeper in the new version is Section control. Would that I could have earned a nickel for every time a client has moved slides within a deck and messed it all up. By adding sections to a deck, you make it easier to modularize and organize your slides. You can move entire sections around, hide them from view when they are not relevant to the task, rename them, and see an organized structure of your deck in Slide Sorter view.

This is not the same as a custom show, which defines a subset of slides that you could treat as its own slide show, and it is not the same as hiding a slide. This is strictly for organizational purposes, and as such, promises to preserve the sanity of those who create slide-heavy decks.

This slide deck has been defined by four distinct sections, each of which can be named, hidden from view, and moved to another place in the deck.

Insert Screenshot

Using PowerPoint to create technical documentation or application tutorials just got much easier with this cool new feature. Go to Insert | Screenshot and you will be greeted with a small drop-down of thumbnails of every application that you have open (must be displaying, not minimized). Choose the desired one and in arrives a clean bitmap image of that app window. No cursor or freezing a menu while it is being pulled down—for that you would need dedicated screen capture software like TechSmith’s SnagIt—but for 90% of screenshot work, this new function makes the task a breeze.

The Insert Screenshot command is the fastest way to get a picture of an app onto a slide.

Clone Animations

Like the Format Painter command that clones visual attributes from one object to another, the Animation Painter will pick up the animation of one object (the one you select) and apply it to any other object (the one you click on). The Animation Painter will not pick up triggers, but it will pick up multiple animations. For instance, if an object has both an entrance and an exit fade applied to it, the new object will inherit both when being painted. While I continue to wait impatiently for a set of animation styles that can be defined and applied to objects, the Animation Painter will do for the time being

Alas, my other big wish-list item for animation was not addressed, either: directional fade. If Wipe and Fly can both move in a specific direction, why can’t Fade? My favorite text animation—a cascading fade, whereby each element fades in a moment before the previous one is finished—remains a tedious maneuver using With Previous and careful timing. If I could designate that a string of bullets are to fade in from the top to the bottom, I could save hours of tiresome mousing per project.

New Transitions…Run for the Hills!

Objectively speaking, PowerPoint’s transition engine has received a nice infusion of functionality. Most important is the ability to set the duration of the slide transition in fractions of seconds, instead of the comically-blunt choices of slow, medium, and fast.

Subjectively, the new transitions will get more attention. In fact, they might steal the entire show, as thousands of users will not be able to resist adding the Vortex, Shred, or Ferris Wheel transition to one of their slides.

Oy vey.

In fairness, existing transitions have been improved and several have more choices and options. And a few of the new ones are quite useful—I have long wanted a transition like Cube (where the slides appear to be pasted onto two adjacent sides of a cube while it rotates) to show that two slides are closely linked by a common idea. But the amount of abuse that will result from this is likely to be staggering, so brace yourself.

Get ready for a whole new round of transition abuse…

Broadcast a Slide Show

You can stage mini webinars from within PowerPoint 2010, thanks to this new feature. When you broadcast a slide deck, it is sent to the Officeapps Live server and you are provided with a URL to share. All those who ping the URL can watch in real time as you drive the slide show. In order to broadcast, you must have a Windows Live ID, but your audience needs only the URL and a browser.


Add to this list about two dozen small tweaks, such as better nudging, laser pointer control via the mouse (good for webinars), better editing of points on a curve, refinement to the Crop tool, better Paste, and a true SDI interface, where each open file gets its own interface.

With version 2010, Microsoft builds on the development successes of version 2007. Whether Microsoft is guilty or not of forcing a user interface upon users that didn’t want it is an open question. It is also a moot one: the Ribbon is here to stay, and with version 2010, Microsoft makes a credible effort to make it more accessible and usable to the masses. You might go kicking and screaming or shrieking with delight; either way, version 2010 is likely to make the new Office user interface everyone’s everyday appliance.

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