Microsoft has made a pledge to move faster these days, and on Friday announced that it's adding two new features to PowerPoint - and creating a way to let Microsoft fans get early access to even more new features down the line.
The two new features are called Morph and Designer, and both are aimed at making PowerPoint presentations less ugly and less boring.
Designer will automatically look at any photo you upload into PowerPoint for a background and suggest several snazzy layout options, based on the template you've selected and the photo itself. Microsoft came up with those suggestions by consulting actual designers, who created the library of 12,000 layout suggestions. Designer also uses machine-learning to analyze the photo you've selected to pick the right suggested layouts. So, for example, if you're using a graph, the program will recognize that and try not to offer layouts that obscure key parts of that image.
Designer doesn't add much in the way of new functionality for the program but rather makes some of the more advanced PowerPoint functions more accessible to the average user. During a Skype demo of the features conducted for The Washington Post, Microsoft employee Chris Maloney - who spearheaded the Designer feature - said that the goal was to "save clicks" for PowerPoint users.
"That's about 150 clicks worth of work you don't have to do now," he said, alluding to all the clicking, dragging, resizing and other tasks that used to be required to get these kinds of designs. "And you get to see new design ideas you probably never thought to do yourself."
The other feature is Morph - a streamlined way to drop animations into PowerPoint presentations. Maloney said that many PowerPoint users, particularly teachers, often want to put animations into their projects to keep audience's attention, but they are intimidated by the way it's currently done in the program.
With Morph, users can simply adjust the shape or layout of their image on a new slide, and PowerPoint will automatically link those slides together to create the animation.
"At the end of the day, these are individual slides. You're just moving the shapes around," he said. "As long as you know how to use shapes, you'll be able to make these and tell stories."
Making the animation process easier has been one of PowerPoint's most-requested features, said Shawn Villaron, the head of PowerPoint at Microsoft. It had been under discussion for years but hadn't moved much beyond talking about how to streamline the process. But a recent hackathon, in which engineers were encouraged to quickly prototype a product, ended up putting out a project that set the groundwork for Morph.