- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Can there be a presentation graphics program for under $100 to challenge Microsoft's PowerPoint, and on a Mac, no less? That's the premise behind Apple Computer's Keynote, a $99.95 program that seeks to rival the Microsoft-created undisputed world leader in such software. (If you don't believe me, examine the May 28, 2001, issue of the New Yorker, which said that 250 million licensed copies of Microsoft Corp.'s PowerPoint were used globally to create or deliver 30 million presentations daily.)
On the face of it, the challenge seems audacious and a bit unnecessary. Microsoft has been, for several years, the premier supplier of business productivity applications for the Mac, and there's been little reason to expect that to change. Word and Excel still dominate the Mac platform, particularly in the OS X arena.
But Apple has its own reasons, and perhaps it decided to create and market Keynote just to show it can be done. Of course, users will get a benefit as well and a substantial one at that.
I tested a copy of Keynote, announced at the Macworld Expo last January and now in stores, on a system that many globe-trotting Mac users would carry: a PowerBook G4 with 256 MB of RAM and a 20 GB hard drive.
First is the obvious savings in price: On its own, PowerPoint v.X costs just under $400 when purchased from a mail-order firm, such as MacConnection. As part of the Microsoft Office v.X package, the total cost is about $500, making the unit cost of the application a bit less. But if you need merely to buy a presentation program, purchasing Keynote saves you 75 percent to 80 percent of the equivalent Microsoft stand-alone application, or suite price.
Second, you don't lose any compatibility with PowerPoint at least none that I've seen. Opening a bunch of PowerPoint-created presentations in Keynote was a breeze, and while a 5 MB file did choke the program a bit, it sailed into PowerPoint. Most of us don't usually create files that large, and the more moderate PowerPoint files I imported into Keynote worked flawlessly.
Reversing direction, I was able to create a Keynote presentation, export it into PowerPoint's format and then click on the saved file to have it open in PowerPoint without a hitch.
This exercise in file compatibility is more than academic. In the corporate world of today, many of those 30 million daily PowerPoint presentations rely on "corporate standard" templates and layouts that users are required to employ. The ability to import and export presentations that work with PowerPoint isn't an option. (Indeed, the inability, for many years, of Lotus' Freelance Graphics to integrate easily with PowerPoint may have doomed it to a niche market but I digress.)
Keynote is more streamlined than PowerPoint, but I didn't notice many major features missing. Selecting a theme for a slide presentation, adding additional slides and then editing and arranging these was not at all a problem. The software's main work area is cleaner and better organized than PowerPoint's, and I had no difficulty editing and modifying my slide designs.
Of course, these are early days for Keynote, and perhaps there is some dedicated PowerPoint maven who will find one or more areas where the program falls short. For the vast majority of computer users and presentation makers, however, Keynote should be more than adequate, and perhaps even a welcome alternative to the complexity and pricing of PowerPoint.
Which, of course, begs a question that Apple is probably not keen to answer: Why don't they truly beard the lion and release a version of Keynote for the Windows user? Fighting hegemony still has its appeals, and the office-application arena is a good place to start.

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