Point Break

PowerPointA good chunk of my day today was spent designing an investor presentation for a client using the supremely inaccurate Microsoft PowerPoint — first on Mac OS X and then on Windows XP — a process which is best likened to assembling a model airplane with oven mitts on. There’s a lot left to be desired in all of the Microsoft Office applications, mostly owing to fact that counter-intuitiveness seems to be the suite’s guiding design principle, but I have a special complaint for PowerPoint. Not only does it do a poor job of crystallizing a thorough thought process, but it’s remarkably unfaithful to user intentions.

The formatting I made to my presentation were sometimes lost by PowerPoint after closing the file, and the next time I would open them my changes had been reverted to some odd default state. I’m not just talking about strange quirks that come and go without fanfare; the erroneous changes I’m referring to were frequent and demonstrable, and I was able to reproduce their effect for my co-workers easily.

In spite of the fact that this strange behavior followed an identifiable pattern, it remained inexplicable — I could find no clear reason why changing a typeface would not be retained the first three times I saved a file, but somehow the selection would stick the fourth time — and why this would happen on not just one, but two separate (but similar) files. A few of these wild errors were potentially disastrous, and had I not double-checked the files before sending them off to the client, they would have caused considerable embarrassment. This has been my experience with PowerPoint for the four or five years I’ve been working with it, and I’m tired of it.



  1. Have you tried Keynote? It exports to Powerpoint (although I haven’t tried it). I hear it’s very good.

  2. Yeesh. You have my sympathies.

    It’s no wonder that Microsoft fails so spectacularly at realms of business that are not tied to their monopoly on the desktop: smartphones, the X-Box, the tablet PC, Web services, even the Pocket PC is just barely limping along.

  3. Having spent the entire day working in powerpoint, and with the entire of next week set aside to prepare four 36-slide whoppers for a client, rest assured that I’m on your side. Because of the myriad font problems which powerpoint loves to throw up, all of these prestentations are going to be set in Verdana. A chill runs down my spine.

  4. Virginia, we’ve tried Keynote here and it’s great. The only problem, as you know, is that PowerPoint is the de facto standard, and clients are unlikely to own it, much less a Mac. I wish that weren’t the case, though, because Keynote’s such a huge improvement over PowerPoint.

  5. But if Keynote can export to Powerpoint and the other way around (I think it can do both… correct me if I’m wrong), then could you design in Keynote and export to Powerpoint for your clients? Or are there translation problems?

  6. Keynote can open PowerPoint files and save files in PowerPoint format… technically. The reality is that moving back and forth between the two applications is pretty messy, and if you want to do anything remotely clever with the layout, it’s not likely to maintain its integrity unless it remains in Keynote.

    Interestingly, we were able to achieve some nice effects in PowerPoint using Keynote to create silhouetted graphics from Adobe Illustrator art. We’d copy the vector artwork from Illustrator and paste it directly in Keynote (a process that’s so incredibly easy it makes you realize that PPT has a very crippled feature set). When we opened the file in PowerPoint, the sillhouette looked great — on a Windows machine. It looked crappy on a Mac. Oh well.