Price as rated: £349.95 as part of Microsoft Office 2008 (also includes Microsoft Word 2008, Microsoft Excel 2008, Microsoft PowerPoint 2008), upgrade £219.95; Home and Student version, £99.95; Special Media Edition (includes Expression Media), £449.95, upgrade £299.99.

Few products enjoy the market dominance that PowerPoint for Windows does - for most of the world, the words “PowerPoint” and “presentation” are interchangeable. But Mac presenters have had an alternative since January of 2003, when Apple unveiled Keynote. Although the initial release lagged in a few critical respects, three subsequent updates addressed most of Keynote’s shortcomings and established it as the clear presentation leader for the Mac. Sporting an improved interface and beefed-up graphics capabilities, PowerPoint 2008 catches up to Keynote in a few areas and even exceeds it in some. While it’s still not Keynote’s equal, PowerPoint is sometimes a better practical choice.

PowerPoint’s new look
Many changes to PowerPoint’s user interface are recognizable instantly. The standard toolbar is now built in, and you can opt to display all the toolbars docked or undocked - except the Drawing toolbar, which cannot be docked. When docked, the toolbars are integrated into the main window, resulting in a much cleaner appearance than in PowerPoint 2004. You can also customize any of the toolbars to suit your workflow by dragging commands into or out of them.

In PowerPoint 2008, the dedicated Slide and Outline views are gone, replaced by a three-part Normal View that shows the current slide on a light grey backdrop and speaker’s notes on the bottom. A new pane on the left replaces the old Outline view with a more versatile one that lets you toggle between outline and thumbnail representations of the presentation. Like Keynote’s Navigator, the Slide pane makes it easy to see the current slide in the context of the ones around it, and you can duplicate, delete, or rearrange selected slides. However, there’s no way to arrange the slides hierarchically or hide subgroups of slides the way you can with Keynote.

The Elements Gallery, another new feature, augments PowerPoint more than it does either of the other two Office applications that feature it. Gallery tabs let you insert or make changes to slide themes, layouts, transitions, table styles, charts, SmartArt Graphics, and WordArt. The Layouts gallery is especially helpful, since you can use it to either change the layout of an existing slide or add a new slide with the selected layout. SmartArt Graphics, which convert text bullets to eye-catching graphics, are an effective way to explain complex relationships, although they can detract from a presentation if they’re overused.