First, some context: I give a substantial number of presentations, because I do a majority of my class lectures using presentation software. Thus, I probably give 50–100 presentations a year. This means I spend a fair amount of time in presentation software, so again, I’m rather particular about it. However, it should be pointed out that none of these are marketing or motivational talks; these are all technical in nature. They aren’t snazzy and I don’t make a lot of use of animation or fancy effects, because I want people focussed on the content, not the presentation itself.
There are really only two serious players in this market: Apple Keynote and Microsoft PowerPoint. There are a number of minor players in this market, whereby I mean software that really does something else, but also happens to support some kind of slide show or presentation features. This list includes things like OmniGraffle Pro, Curio, DeltaGraph, and I’m sure many, many others. Many of those are nice, but they aren’t really centered on presentations and I give enough that I need a dedicated tool.
This one is actually a no-brainer: Keynote is my tool of choice, hands down, no contest. Frankly, PowerPoint blows goats. There is almost nothing that PowerPoint does better than Keynote, and Keynote can read and write PowerPoint files, so why bother with it?
However, in the interest of fairness, there are a couple things PowerPoint does do better. The main thing is drawing. PowerPoint has a wider range of drawing tools, and handles things like arrowed connecters between objects dramatically better than Keynote. (Keynote only recently added arrowed connectors at all.) Mostly I don’t consider this a big deal, since if I’m going to do a really complex diagram I’m going to do it in a dedicated drawing program like OmniGraffle anyway. The one place where there’s some real advantage here is that if you want the diagram to appear in stages (that is, via animation), then you basically have to draw it in the presentation software, so PowerPoint does get a point over Keynote here.
However, that’s pretty much it. PowerPoint is slow, generally much klunkier to use, more expensive, and generally vile. The most amazing thing about PowerPoint is how it has consistently failed to improve from one version to the next. The 2008 version is just simply not better than the 2004 version. If you want to mess with the animation of your bullet points, this still requires digging through multi-level dialog boxes. I hear that if you’re using PowerPoint on Windows, it’s better. There’s irony there—is there serious competition for PowerPoint on the Windows side? My impression, though I admittedly don’t really know, is that there isn’t. Yet there is serious competition on the Mac side, and that competition is staggeringly better, yet PowerPoint doesn’t seem to be getting any better in order to compensate.
Note that it hasn’t always been this way. For a long time I used PowerPoint because of its superior support for equation editing in an external editor (MathType). Since one of the classes I teach every year is statistics, I need to present a lot of equations. So I’ve stuck with PowerPoint just for that feature. The current version of Keynote has stepped up and now supports MathType, and last fall I dumped PowerPoint completely.
If you’re still using PowerPoint on the Mac, I’d highly recommend you look at Apple’s Keynote; it’s just simply better.