PowerPoint enters the video age
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth at least ten thousand, but up until now PowerPoint's video features have been rudimentary at best. PowerPoint 2010 introduces a slew of enhanced video features, although in the Technical Preview not all were working properly.
Key among the new features is a set of basic video editing tools built directly into PowerPoint. They're not as powerful as full-blown video editing software but work well for common tasks such as trimming and compressing videos and adding fade-ins and fade-outs. Highlight a video you've embedded in a presentation, and the tools appear in the Ribbon.
Also useful is a set of video controls you can use during the presentation to pause, rewind, fast-forward and so on -- something that the previous version of PowerPoint did not have.
One issue with video, though, is that PowerPoint does not play a wide variety of formats. It plays Audio Video Interleave (.avi) files as well as Windows Media (.wmv) files, but many other video formats require the installation of third-party codecs or add-in applications.
New and very useful is the ability to embed videos from online video-sharing sites such as YouTube. To embed the video, you go to the site, find the code for embedding the video you want (the code is prominently displayed on most sites, including YouTube), and then paste it into PowerPoint. Theoretically, the video will play as part of your presentation, although you'll need an Internet connection to do so because the video will play from the original site, not from your PC.
I had serious problems with this feature. I could not get PowerPoint to play any videos from the Microsoft Showcase site, MSN Video or YouTube. When I tried to embed the video, I received an error message. However, in YouTube when I deselected the "Include related videos" option for creating the embed code and then pasted the results in to PowerPoint, PowerPoint accepted the video and played it in the slide show -- once. When I tried to play it a second time, it didn't work. Presumably, this feature will be fixed in subsequent releases.
In addition to video features, animations have been significantly improved in PowerPoint 2010. There are now far more animations to choose from, and it's easier to use them via the Ribbon.
You can also more easily edit your animations with a custom animation feature. And there's a nifty "Animation Painter" that lets you take any animation that you've selected or created, and apply that animation across multiple slides, without having to do it manually for each slide.
As with Word, you can add screenshots to presentations with the new screenshot tool. There are some other nice additions, including new slide transitions and additional SmartArt graphics and themes, but the basics of PowerPoint remain the same.
Highlights from other apps
The Microsoft Office family comprises more than Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, even if the other members of the family are not as well known. We won't cover every change to every family member, only the most important ones.
The desktop publishing app Microsoft Publisher can now handle type in a more sophisticated way, with the same tools given to Microsoft Word for handling ligatures, small caps and other kinds of type. Templates can be more easily edited, and they can be shared with others from directly within Publisher.
Microsoft also hopes that with this version of Office, OneNote -- an application that keeps track of notes and other data in multiple formats -- will finally come into its own. I've been a OneNote user for several years, and believe that it's one of the great underused Office applications. OneNote users will be pleased that it's been powered up in some important ways.
The new Side Notes feature lets you write a note while using another Office application, and have that note automatically saved in OneNote. It's also now easier to capture information and copy it to OneNote, and navigation through notebooks has been improved. Searching for information in OneNote, which previously was not particularly useful, has been augmented as well: You can now specify whether to search on a page or in a section, section group, individual notebook or all notebooks.