Here's some late breaking news: On Tuesday, January 10, Apple CEO Steve Jobs hosted his annual Macworld Expo keynote speech at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. He pretty much blew the crowd away when he announced that not only were they way ahead of schedule with the transition to Intel processors, but that two models would be shipping by February. Even more amazingly, Jobs indicated they would complete the transition to Intel chips across the entire product line by the end of 2006. Great news for Mac-centric portable graphics professionals like us who have been bound to a pokey G4 processor for almost five years, while our Windows counterparts have zoomed away with 2Ghz+ dual processor goodness.

Another news item Jobs glossed over in the keynote was a new version of Keynote itself. As half of Apple iWork '06 (the other half being the simple desktop publishing application, Pages), Keynote was actually developed internally by Apple to design the slideshows that accompany Jobs' Macworld keynote speeches. They liked it so much they decided to sell it to the public. My copy of iWork '06 arrived just two days after it was announced, so I thought I'd write an overview of my initial observations.

Keynote is Apple's own version of Microsoft's PowerPoint. It is a slideshow-style presentation application that uses transitions between slides, as well as animations within each slide for graphic elements as they appear and disappear. I've found that Keynote's transitions and animations are much smoother and natural than PowerPoint's. In addition to the buttery dissolves, Keynote has a slew of powerful 3D transitions that are fun to play with, as well, although not as useful in our world.

One of my favorite features in Keynote is that it works with alpha channels, meaning that by using an application such as Adobe® Photoshop®, you can predetermine an area of the image that will be masked out and not appear in the slide (Figure 1). The alpha channel is a hidden grayscale layer in the image that tells the software to mask the image so that only the areas in white are revealed. Since it is grayscale, you can feather your mask by using various shades of gray.

A very nice and welcome new addition to Keynote v.3 is that you can actually create the mask in Keynote, complete with adjustable Bezier curves to create smooth shapes. Once your image is positioned on screen, you create a shape on top of the image, choosing “custom shape” from the shape menu (designated by the squiggly line and pen icon), and trace over your image along the outline. Then you choose “mask with shape” from the format menu to apply the mask to your original image.

Another welcome new feature is Keynote's ability to perform minor image adjustments right in Keynote. In previous versions, you needed to make even the smallest changes in an image editor and re-import your image into Keynote. Now, with the Adjust Image palette, you can control things like brightness, contrast, sharpness, hue, and saturation. There is also a new Light Table view that lets you look at thumbnails of all your slides and reorder them with drag-and-drop ease.

Keynote also retains its ability to open and/or save as Microsoft PowerPoint shows. Sometimes you need to pass off your show to a PC, and this is how a PC will be able to play it. Keynote can also export the show as a QuickTime slideshow, a QuickTime movie, or right to Apple iDVD as a slideshow playable in DVD players.

I was disappointed to find that the timing elements in Keynote are still limited to 60 seconds. When you are trying to create a show that can play on its own, this can be frustrating since you have to double up identical slides to have an image hold for two minutes. But I have to say, considering that it is only $79, it is still the best cheap projection design software out there.

Next month, I'll be discussing my personal methods for file transport, backup, and long-term storage. In the meantime, got a problem that you need solved? Found a cool trick that you'd like to share? Drop me a line at Zachary@Borovay.com.

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS COLUMN:

Macworld Conference & Expo: www.macworldexpo.com Apple iWork '06 with Keynote v.3: www.apple.com/keynote QuickTime: www.apple.com/quicktime