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Presenting Three Choices - Keynote, PowerPoint, and ThinkFree Show

written by: Laura Rooke•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 2/24/2009

This is a comparison of three software packages for creating presentations: Keynote 2006, PowerPoint 2007, and ThinkFree Show. All three are powerful. They all give very professional looking results, and you can easily create simple designs or more complex presentations. So which one is for you?

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    There are two heavyweights in presentation software: Apple’s Keynote and Microsoft’s PowerPoint. They both do an amazing job of allowing the user to easily create a simple slideshow, while also providing the complex tools for creating an elaborate presentation with stunning effects. There is also ThinkFree’s Show, which does an admirable job coming in third. Although it lacks a number of features, it still allows you to create a professional-quality presentation. For its price, Show delivers plenty.
     
    I am a longtime user of Microsoft products, especially PowerPoint. I have always loved PowerPoint 2003, and I found PowerPoint 2007 to be a big step forward. I use PowerPoint to create presentations and photo slideshows, and I also love it when I need to create any document that needs a mixture of graphics and text. I love that I can create a simple but effective graphic effect, or create a much more complex presentation.
     
    Delving into Keynote was new for me, and I found that I had to get over the hurdle of doing things the Apple way. Apple’s products--the iPod, the iPhone, their laptops, and their monitors--are all beautifully designed. The design themes that can be used within Keynote also have this same quality. Somehow the overall look of a finished Keynote presentation is much more visually pleasing than results from PowerPoint or Show. I was expecting Keynote to be easier to use; I was disappointed here, but this might be because I am such a heavy Microsoft user.  I didn’t find it as intuitive as I thought I would. I needed to use the help on a number of occasions.
     
    ThinkFree’s Show mimics Microsoft PowerPoint 2003. The screen layout is extremely comparable. The formatting of objects is also very similar, if not slightly easier. This may be because there are fewer formatting options. Show offers much of what the other two can do; however, you cannot create charts in any format, nor can you add music to your presentation. Show can be used across different platforms (Mac, PC, and Linux), which could be very appealing with people who work with a mix of machines.
     
    I tested three aspects of these products: graphic design, photo slideshow presentation, and  business presentation.
     
    Graphic Design
    By this, I mean the creation of any type of document that needs a mixture of graphics and text.  I find PowerPoint and Show much easier to use for this simpler type of project--the tasks of creating a text box, filling it with color, and then giving it a border are much more intuitive than in Keynote. The drawing tools at the bottom of the screen in Show make the design process even easier.
     
    Football Invitations screenshot
     
    Both PowerPoint and Show offer clipart. This clipart includes some very attractive borders.
     
    Poem screenshot
     
    The ruler and gridlines are really useful tools. They help to line up the design elements. I didn’t find either in Show. Both are offered in PowerPoint and Keynote.
     
    PowerPoint and Keynote can mask a photo with a shape. Keynote does this better, as you can choose your shape and then drag it anywhere on the photo. You can also manipulate the shape until you get the right effect on the photo.  With PowerPoint, you do not get this choice--it just cuts the photo with the shape.
     
    PowerPoint Mask Shape screenshot
     
    Keynote 3 Mask Shape screenshot
     
    Photo Slideshow
    This is a really fun type of project. You can take all the photos in an album or select from photos in various albums, and put together a slideshow that runs automatically. With Keynote and PowerPoint you can add music or audio. You cannot add any type of audio with Show.
     
    All three products make this an easy and fun project, offering an assortment of animations that can be applied to individual objects on a slide and a variety of transitions between slides. The same transitions can be applied to all slides, or each slide can have a different transition. PowerPoint’s effects outnumber those of the other two. Also, PowerPoint offers the transition selection in pictorial format rather than by name. This makes it easier to see what to expect from each selection.
     
    Transition Selection screenshot
     
    With PowerPoint and Keynote, you can add music or audio to the slideshow.  The music in Keynote needs to be from iTunes or GarageBand. PowerPoint and Keynote also offer a rehearsal mode to time your presentation and tweak the flow. Show does not have this option.
     
    Business Presentation
    All three products will produce tables, though PowerPoint and Keynote have more powerful formatting and data-manipulation tools than Show. PowerPoint uses the power of Excel, and Keynote has its own tool for data manipulation. You can create very complex tables. This is not a simple task, but the tools are there in both Keynote and PowerPoint, and can be easily discovered and learned.
     
    If you need to present your ideas with charts or structure diagrams, then Show is not going to do it for you. Both PowerPoint and Keynote have sophisticated tools to produce charts in various formats. Be it pie charts, bar charts, or scatter diagrams, you can tweak your design in seemingly endless ways until you have a very artistic and professional looking chart. When you select your chart, both programs then present the chart view and a data-entry view on the screen, where you can enter your data and any applicable headings. Both products are very easy to use with excellent results. The charts on both can be manipulated. For instance, with the pie chart, you can pull out pieces of the pie. You can also color them as you wish. Coloring of individual pieces, be it the pie or bar, is slightly simpler to do with PowerPoint.
     
    Chart from Keynote screenshot
     
    Chart from PowerPoint screenshot
     
    PowerPoint offers SmartArt to produce structure diagrams. You might use this to show a company structure, a computer network, or a workflow diagram. It has some very powerful yet easy-to-use tools to produce professional quality graphics. I really love the way that you can move the mouse over the different choices and as you hold your mouse on each choice, you immediately see the effect. Some of the designs include placeholders for your own photos.
     
    SmartArt screenshot
     
    Being able to add comments that can only be seen by the presenter is, to me, almost a necessity--certainly a necessity for a professional presentation. Show does not offer the ability to present on multiple monitors; therefore, presenter’s comments are not an option. Show has less security and change tracking. The user can track any changes made to a document with PowerPoint or Keynote.
     
    Conclusion
    All three of these products are powerful. They all give professional looking results. You can easily create simple graphic designs or more complex presentations. PowerPoint and Keynote offer a larger array of useful tools. Both products can take a while to learn to use, though they are fairly intuitive. All three deliver good value, however. ThinkFree 3 Show delivers much less, but that's expected for the price, and I was very pleasantly surprised by its power. I thought that I would love Keynote more than I did. I have heard so much about the ease of using Apple products, but I didn’t find it that simple to use. The end results, though, were worthwhile and definitely of high quality. PowerPoint 2007 still remains my firm favorite. This version might take some getting used to, especially if you are used to earlier versions. It’s just a question of getting used to the different ribbons. PowerPoint is especially good at giving a preview of the various formatting choices. PowerPoint 2007, Keynote 3, and ThinkFree Show 3 all give the power to create professional presentations.