PowerPoint is not the right tool for every job -- and that's perfectly okay

When I wrote my PowerPoint is not the right tool for every job post last week for Mac Mojo, I knew that it was only a matter of time before someone would read it and crow about it. I just wasn't sure who would be the first. The Apple Core blog at ZDNet didn't disappoint. In their bizarrely-titled PowerPoint: The Devil's tool? Maybe, get a Mac, David Morgenstern takes delight because I have "admitted that there are good presentations and bad presentations", following it with an "ouch!".

I find it especially amusing that Morgenstern would make the claim that "Mac users should take many of these rules with a large dash of salt — they are based on PowerPoint's toolset and a user base unaccustomed to manipulating high-res, quality images." As Morgenstern himself points out, many of the articles that I linked to provide "good ideas" for making a good presentation and avoiding making a bad presentation. And leaving aside that PowerPoint was originally a Mac-only app and thus has a userbase that is accoustomed to his asserted behaviour, which I would expect someone who claims to have 20 years of experience in covering the Mac industry to know, presentations are rarely about "manipulating high-res, quality images" -- and they shouldn't be, either.

Manipulation of images, preferably in ways that aren't as depressing as the recent side-by-side comparisons of the published Britney Spears photos and the untouched ones, isn't necessary or even desirable for every presentation. They're fitting in some presentations, yes, but definitely not all of them. A high-res, quality image doesn't get around the problem that was discussed in the original NY Times article: presenters need to carefully consider and polish their message, and deliver it in a manner that gets the job done right. Spending a weekend pixel-pushing a high-res, quality image in your graphic editor of choice is no better than creating that rainbow spaghetti slide if the accompanying message isn't one that is complete, accurate, concise, and understandable.

I honestly don't know what could be wrong in saying that PowerPoint is not the right tool for every job. When I share my research with my teams, I create both a PowerPoint deck for the high-level findings, and a Word document with deep details about every aspect of the study. I present the deck to the team, discuss what I learned in my research, and use the Word document to provide additional details as necessary and to allow the team to do a deep dive into something if appropriate. For one of my standard usability studies, the PowerPoint deck is usually on the order of 15 slides, and the Word document is around 30 pages. Those two outputs have different goals and different audiences. For each of them, I choose the right tool for the job. I don't try to make one tool do everything.

So yes, this employee of Microsoft is saying that PowerPoint is not the right tool for every job. Want to buy a new car? A spreadsheet that makes use of goal seek is a good tool for that job. Want to learn music theory? Surprisingly, you could also discover the circle of fifths in Excel, too. Writing your annual holiday letter? That's probably a job for the publishing layout view in Word:Mac. I could head into the ridiculous and point out that if you need to connect to the Windows computer that lives headless under your desk in your office (as mine does), PowerPoint is very much not the right tool for that job, but Remote Desktop Connection is. As someone said to me via Twitter today, "Hammers ain't the best tool for sawing, either. Doesn't say anything bad about hammers."