A real-World Keynote Review

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By rpguillory
May 6, 2004

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As I've recently made the acquaintance of Keynote, I thought I'd share my experience with TMF:AAPL. I have no idea how much, if any, revenue it generates for Apple but considering it's a recent offering and is aimed at the corporate pie of which we all wish Apple had a larger slice, perhaps some might find it of interest.

As I may have mentioned before, one of the major cruise lines is a client of mine and each year, I'm responsible for designing, producing, and running the graphics for their annual meeting. The event is a live, one-day show for an audience of about 300 and plays more like a stage production than a typical corporate meeting because I'm part of a crew of camera operators, video operators, sound guys, lighting guys, etc.

My work consists of creating motion graphics used as video filler as well as text animations and other graphics over original video produced for the event. Unhappily, it has also previously consisted of several hundred PowerPoint slides, that is, until this year. For the last five years, I was forced to use PowerPoint because during that time, there really wasn't an alternative that would have made both client and designer happy. As has also been mentioned here more than once before by me, I curse PowerPoint with every fiber of my body. It really is a complete piece of dung and to think that something as useful as Excel and as worthless as PowerPoint can come from the same company baffles the mind.

During the planning stages for this year's meeting, a VP for the company mentioned that it would be nice to use something besides PowerPoint because, and I quote (hence the little curly things before and after the sentence) "PowerPoint looks like crap." (This said by a person whose company is so fully entrenched in Windows that Mac users are openly made fun of. However, this same VP is also the very happy new owner of a 17" PowerBook so maybe that had something to do with it). So, after a couple of years of begging them to let me come up with an alternative -- and with the serendipitous recent introduction of Keynote -- I finally had the chance to produce a broadcast-quality "video" presentation instead of still PowerPoint slides.

For sometime, my dream for this production was to present their information in a manner similar to the way CNBC presents their information -- a moving seamless loop of video in the background to create interest and depth with bullet points, charts, and photos composited on the topmost layer. Previously, I had tried this with PowerPoint but the results were less than stellar; it never really handled QuickTime movies as well as it should have and no matter how great and interesting the moving background, the text rendered by PowerPoint is, and I say this without any trace of hyperbole, the worst representation of anything or any information ever in the history of the world in any form by anybody throughout the universe in perpetuity. And if that weren't enough, it's crap god awful garbage.

Considering I knew nothing of Keynote (and I didn't even watch Steve's keynote introducing Keynote), I ventured out into the great unwashed known as the Internet to see what I could see. Could it handle a moving video background while displaying other objects on top? (Yes) What happens to the moving background when moving from slide to slide? (It unfortunately stops but if you design the background with that in mind and use the proper transitions, this transitional "bug" can be kept to a minimum). And as important as anything else, as this was untested software to me and I read that it did crash every now and then, was it stable enough to run for eight hours under the pressure of a live show?

(It turns out, "Yes.")

It was a resounding success. I layered my charts and bullet points over the animated background and the clean Quartz rendering of the elements combined with the 3D transitions embedded within Keynote actually drew two utterances of "Wow!" from senior management when they came to run through their presentations. Almost everyone asked, "What is that?" and I was proud to say, "Keynote, it's only available on the Mac."

Just in case, I brought two Powerbooks loaded with identical presentations; one as my primary machine and one as a backup that I could quickly cross fade to in case of a crash but it was never needed. I simply ran an S-video signal to the video projector and everything went swimmingly. During intermissions and lunch, I also ran a 20-second animation loop on one slide and kept it up on the presentation monitors (all 16 of them) without a hitch.

Keynote is not perfect -- there are interface bugs and some things that just wouldn't work. It did crash twice whilst I was creating the first couple of presentations but never again after that.

As many of you know, corporate work isn't always rife with creativity and up until this year, I had grown tired of this annual migration to that decrepit little burg of PowerPoint-ville. But for someone who has created literally thousands of slides in PowerPoint during my lifetime, Keynote was a pleasure to work with and based on my experience, is no doubt ready for the prime time, corporate world.

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