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I’d forgotten how much I like Keynote

Posted in Apple and Tools

My presentations used to almost always involve an HDMI cable. Whenever I would give a presentation, my slide decks would be in Keynote and I’d plug into a monitor or projector. Keynote was great.

That began to change when I started working in UK government. The department was made up of people all over the UK, so most presentations were made using Google Hangouts/Meet via a Chromebox; this meant screen sharing from my laptop’s screen.

Keynote didn’t allow you to present your slides in one window and view presenter notes in another, so when presenting remotely meant I would have to:

  1. Share (and view) my Keynote slides only, sacrificing presenter notes
  2. Choose another tool for my presentations

I don’t generally lean that heavily on presenter notes, but I do have the odd prompt in there to make sure I don’t forget mention something important. So I grudgingly fell back on option 2.

Google Slides

Google was the obvious choice as the government department I was working in was very Google-centric. There were also a lot of collaborative slide decks, and I have to say Google Slides excels at this. But there are other places where it’s really lacking:

  • Templating is almost impossible to manage so every slide looks slightly (or sometimes wildly) different
  • Local fonts aren’t allowed, meaning everything tends to be set in Open Sans or Roboto
  • All of my Apple-style emojis were converted to Google’s goofy looking emoji style by the Chromebox
  • Doesn’t let you embed vector images; just raster
  • There’s no Dark Mode (yet?)
  • It doesn’t allow you to indent the slide overview strip to indicate the document’s outline
  • The slide decks live in Google’s cloud, so the ‘files’ not easy to move around (from one Google account to another, to my local machine, etc.)
  • I have to look carefully through the menu every time I went to export a slide deck as exporting is called ‘Download’
  • When I go to duplicate a deck it takes me a minute to realise Google call it ‘Make a copy’
  • Scrolling down/up with the mouse/trackpad moves to the next/previous slide, which often happens unexpectedly when moving around zoomed-in slide
  • Because it’s browser-based, the keyboard shortcut for zooming zooms the whole view; ditto for pinch/spread gestures; to zoom in on slide itself, there’s a Google Slides specific keyboard shortcut (or a hard-to-use toolbar button)
  • I sometimes find myself with the same slide deck open in multiple browser tabs, as I lose them among the millions of tabs I have open

Where there was an HDMI cable handy, I’d continue to reach for good old Keynote, but that came to an end when COVID-19 struck and working from home became the norm. Every presentation I gave was remote, so Keynote’s one big failing meant I continued with Google Slides.

Then a funny thing happened: I started to forget about about Keynote.


About a month or so ago and I started to get really disgruntled with Google Slides again and felt motivated to try something else.

My current workplace uses Microsoft products, but PowerPoint is almost laughably unusable. Then I remembered Deckset, which I’d tried a few years back, and it looked just the ticket! It has two really nice features:

  • It’s based on a single Markdown document, and I love Markdown
  • It has built-in syntax highlighting for code snippets

Unfortunately it’s not all good news; even Deckset has some downsides:

  • It’s a single document, which can be unwieldy for decks with more than a handful of slides: (command) + f gets a lot of use to find my place
  • The separation of style and content is a neat idea, but themes in other presentation software also do this without using separate apps for editing and viewing
  • Images are a bit awkward as the alt="" text consists of instructions as to how the image should be displayed. If this was a description of the image, as it should be, it would result in a more accessible non-visual experience
  • Managing themes is tricky as you extend an existing theme rather than create one from scratch
  • Syncing themes across devices isn’t possible (I’d love to be corrected here)

But these failings were much less of a hindrance than Google Slides, so I happily made the move to Deckset.

Back to Keynote

The twist at the end of this story is that Keynote 11 landed last month and it was suddenly useful again!

Keynote is great. Really great. It has none of the downsides of Google Slides or Deckset, and with the ability to present with the slides in one window and the presenter notes in another it’s now usable for remote presentations.

I already miss the code syntax highlighting that Deckset does so well (though there is a work-around), and I’m yet to collaborate on a slide deck, so we’ll see how that goes (it didn’t work all that well last time I tried it, but that was four or five years ago). For now, though, I’m just happy that building a slide deck is fast, easy and solid again!

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