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PowerPoint 2013: Conversation with Ric Bretschneider

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
posted by Geetesh on 9:30 AM IST

Ric BretschneiderRic Bretschneider spent over 16 years on the Microsoft PowerPoint team building features within the product. Ric founded the San Jose, CA branch of the Pecha Kucha presentation event, and can occasionally be heard on his Presentations Roundtable podcast, promoting excellence in design and technique through interviews of industry professionals. His blog offers thoughts on presenting and other important subjects.

In this conversation, Ric discusses the new PowerPoint 2013.

Geetesh: What are your thoughts about PowerPoint 2013 – what do you like, what do you miss?

Ric: PowerPoint 2013 is full of things that will delight users, and a few things that will give user's pause. Luckily, the latter are few and easily avoided or turned off so I won't dwell on them much. I'll only comment on a couple good ones that really grab me.

I'm very happy that the PowerPoint team has continued to evolve the Presenter View. This is a special view that is typically only shown on the screen facing the presenter, with user interface and other information they can reference during a presentation. The idea is that the projected image doesn't show anything other than the presenter's slides.

It has been painful to me to be in presentations where the presenter stays in the Normal editing view to get this type of control -- it's a shamefully bad experience. However, in the past it was really difficult to configure your machine to run Presenter View and impossible to practice with it when you didn't have that second monitor or projector attached.

Luckily both problems have been worked on and it's much easier to get to Presenter View, and make sure it's showing up on the right screen. And if you're practicing with a single machine, you can now bring Presenter View up and work with it on that single screen. You just hold down the Alt key when you press F5. Really easy.

When we first made the Presenter View, there was one thing I really tried to drive home. It's very hard to be a presenter in front of an audience, and everything you ask them to do to work the presentation has to be easier than when they're using PowerPoint in their office. A big example of this was the idea that you shouldn't have to hit small targets with the mouse. Buttons and things you need to click should be big, easy to target, especially if your hand is trembling. This is an area where the new design has gone backwards a little, but it's because they've been focusing on using this view with a tablet and adopting the somewhat controversial Mosaic design style. It's not horrible, but the idea that the navigation and utility buttons are dimmer, and a bit smaller than in the prior version is such a lost opportunity to make this truly great and easy for the user.

What is totally cool about the new Presenter View are the feature additions. First, a magnificent black background. I don't know how they got this by Office Design who seems to have wanted everything to be washed-out grays and whites, but kudos. It's totally beautiful and functionally the right thing to do for a presenter. Next, the resizable panes. This may seem like not so much of a big deal, but it actually let's you prioritize the use of the various information areas, especially if you're using the text area as your personal teleprompter. Prior versions let you do a little of this, but never let you close out an area entirely. And I may be wrong, but I think they increased the sensitivity to grabbing the dividing lines here so it's actually easier to drag these divisions larger or smaller. If I'm wrong there, I blame my enthusiasm for the black background spilling over into that evaluation. Now if only they'd do a solid black background in PowerPoint's editing views!

And finally, the ability to go into a slide-sorter like view in Presenter View is simply magical. This lets you navigate to another slide randomly, without the audience being aware that you're doing anything more than advancing to the next slide. It is so much like a card trick where the magician pulls out the card you were thinking of, but this time from a slide deck. Back in the 90's we started getting requests from people who wanted this functionality, but who couldn't really state how it should work. This is spot-on what those users wanted.

That went way too long so let me do just one more that a lot of people may miss.

Hallelujah! They've brought back floating panes. One of the big mistakes of Office 2007 has been partially undone.

In Office 2007, the Office Ribbon Czars decided that a lot of older (I like to think of them as "time-tested") UI conventions would be unapologetically trashed because everyone was supposed to "love the Ribbon." One of these sacrifices that the PowerPoint team knew was a mistake were floating formatting tools. Floating meant you could bring this stuff down to the bottom of the screen where you were working and be that much more efficient.

In PowerPoint 2013, you can reestablish floating task panes via a two-step process.

Click on some text or a shape and the Ribbon automatically shows the appropriate formatting Ribbon's tab. Click that tab and then click on the tiny dialog launcher (box with arrow) icon at the bottom of say the Shape Styles group in that Ribbon.

Hey, look at that! A new pane will open up to the right of the screen with all the appropriate settings right there, easy to get at. And that pane is contextual, it changes depending on what you have selected. So if you then click into a text box, all the text commands show up there.

But the best part is that pane can be "undocked!" That means you can move your mouse pointer up around the pane's title and drag it away from the edge of the window, out over the slide content! You can move it around the screen, even redock it! This is a blessing to anyone trying to do great design on a large monitor.

I could go on, but those are the first two that come to mind. Hope that gets some other folks as excited as it has me.

Geetesh: New technologies such as SkyDrive get more integrated with PowerPoint (and Office) with each release. What do you think about this trend – is it too soon, too late, or just right?

Ric: SkyDrive is a funny one. I use SkyDrive mostly to preview Office documents I've received in e-mail, and it does a great job of that, better than anything else on the web.

For me, my online storage of choice is DropBox, because they've available on every platform, have good performance and feature set, and they're a very mature application. Microsoft has gone perhaps a half-dozen times into the storage sync story, and I've tried every one of them. Unfortunately, as you might infer, they've been offered and abandoned over time.

SkyDrive is a rebranding of some tech Microsoft has been working on for a while, but they seem to have made a bigger commitment here in integrating this in Office, especially since it's the default save choice. Luckily you can change that default, but it's still very easy to get to when you want to use it. If you're an Office user you have access to SkyDrive Pro, which lets you sync local folders with the cloud service. Once you do that, saving locally to those folders makes sure you have a local copy and one in the cloud. DropBox works in that mode by default, which is a slightly simpler metaphor for users to get their head around.

I think SkyDrive is more appealing than Apple's iCloud if you actually sit down and compare them in scenario based appraisals. Both have clients for each other's platforms, a SkyDrive menu bar control for OSX and a Windows control panel for iCloud, and they work well. But Apple doen't have an Android client, which SkyDrive does. And Microsoft is more generous in memory. Apple is very focused on up-selling you cloud storage.

But personally I feel more comfortable with file and folder sharing with DropBox. I know a couple of people who have gotten screwed over (in their opinions) by sharing files with me via SkyDrive, and they still don't forgive me for making them use it. I've never had a complaint from anyone I've worked with through DropBox. Apple's iCloud isn't a player here, the iCloud storage is obfuscated, only displayed as app space use, no folder structure to navigate or randomly reassign. It's the iPhone/iPad data story come to the computer, and sorry but it sucks.

Cloud storage is something everyone needs to evaluate for themselves. Personally I'm not going to "switch" to SkyDrive. I'll make use of it for some of my Office documents, but that's about it. For everything else, I'm sticking with DropBox. Of course, if you're not already into a cloud storage service, you probably should try out SkyDrive when you install Office 2013.

See Also: Ric Bretschneider on Indezine

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