Oh PowerPoint, bane of many a life; what would consultants and PR agencies do without thee? If any program with the supposed claim of improving productivity has furthered the cause of corporate boredom any better I haven't heard of it. Despite this there are many that would argue the slide presentation has its place and so, assembly-planning headmasters and business strategy-presenting managers everywhere will be pleased to know that PowerPoint 2008 is a fine way to say very little with a lot of pizzazz.
Being a fairly graphics heavy application anyway the addition of the Ribbon to PowerPoint is perhaps a less intrusive change than in Excel and Word, but no less useful. Slide layouts and themes are now all, as expected, controlled from the one place, with colourful previews galore and items such as charts and such like easily added in a far more intuitive manner. SmartArt, while seen in Word and Excel too, is actually likely to be used here, most likely alongside such words as ‘dynamic' and ‘paradigm' but at least it makes a nice break from a plain old bullet pointed list.
While adding these elements to the slide you'll be presented with a nice set of alignment guides helping to get things arranged in an orderly fashion - while it sounds simple it's actually a fantastic addition. Once you have your slides all sorted out changing the colouring and theme is a fun affair to - no sarcasm intended. Using the Ribbon you can quickly skim through quick previews of various slide themes and then apply one to the entire presentation altering the fonts, element alignments et al to suit.
Should you wish to change individual sections of a slide then the Formatting Palette once again comes into play, offering you a range of options varying from just background colours to 3D effects for SmartArt objects and WordArt. I feel slightly dirty saying it but, as with PowerPoint 2007, the new refinements to these presentation ingredients actually make them feel like they might be implemented with a level of usefulness and even add to a presentation rather than serving to confuse or, more likely, cover up a slight lacking in actual facts. Importantly there is also a large range of transition effects available from the Ribbon, selecting of one of these triggers a quick live preview on said slide, which is nice. And, as every good presenter knows, the less interesting the presentation the more funky transition effects are needed.
Other additions include an improved presenter mode, whereby the unlucky person in charge of giving the talk can preview not just the slide being shown to the audience but the next three slides as well, with a clock so you can tell how long you've bored said audience so far. This mode also allows notes to be added around each slide, eliminating the need to carry paper cue cards. Finally, support for the Mac remote is also now present - finally.
The presentation (pun intended) of PowerPoint 2004 left rather a lot to be desired when compared to iWork's rival offering, Keynote. With the 2008 version Microsoft has clearly spent a bit of time checking out what its competitor was doing right and then doing the same thing, but a little bit better.