PowerPoint 2013: The User Interface


Much has remained the same between the User Interface familiar to users of PowerPoint 2010, but the 2013 edition features some not insignificant tinkering around the edges and small improvements/relocations of interface elements.  The status bar at the bottom of the screen has been reworked, dialog launchers are still with us, but are on the wane in favor of task panes anchored to the right of the screen, the tab system and ribbon are in full flower, with some notable improvements, and there is a remarkable and very welcome improvement to labeling, formatting, and filtering charts.  This post will catch you up to speed.

The Overview

Here is a sample presentation in normal view, with the major UI elements labelled.

PowerPoint Normal View UI

Along the top the new control is the Ribbon Display Options button.  It allows for auto-hiding the ribbon, like the Windows taskbar, showing tabs only, or showing the complete ribbon.  The tabs only view can also be achieved by double-clicking any of the tabs, then double-clicking one again to bring the full set of ribbon commands back.

The status bar, along the bottom of the screen, in much more changed.  In PowerPoint 2010 the presentation theme was named on the far left of the status bar, right after the slide number, and that is gone in 2013.  In its place is a spell check shortcut, as in Word.  In 2010 normal view included a Notes pane, beneath the slide pane.  Now there is a Notes pane toggle on the status bar.  New is a Comments toggle, to open/close a comments pane to the right of the slide pane, useful if you are working on a collaborative project and wish to read your colleague’s comments.

The three useful view shortcuts are still there on the status bar, normal view, slide sorter view and slide show view, and have been joined by a reading view shortcut, whose usefulness cannot be disputed in Word, but is dubious in PowerPoint.  Next to the view shortcuts is the zoom slider, and a new fit to window/ full slide pane shortcut.

The Ribbon

The ribbon groupings and commands are also pretty much the same, with the same dialog launchers, but a few new commands have been added.  For instance, on the Insert menu there is now an Online Pictures command and a new Apps for Office command.

New Insert Commands

The Online Pictures command brings up a search/browse dialog box that ill let you search Clip Art at office.com, do a Bing Image search that by default will return only Creative Commons licensed, royalty free pictures (with an option to show all in the results), a link to browse pictures on your SkyDrive, and also links to search Facebook and Flickr.  This is a huge improvement over the old Clip Art command, though it would be nice to include a Google image search box too, which for obvious reasons is not there.

Apps for Office are add-in apps you can get from the office.com store to add functionality to the various Office programs.

The Design tab now has a Variants gallery, showing each theme’s variants, and a new Slide Size command for quickly converting between 4:3 and 16:9 (the new default) aspect ratio presentations.  This used to hide out on the Page Setup command, buried in a complex dialog box, but has been wisely moved front-and-center because so many people will be converting their presentations to 16:9.

Variants Size Commands

Rise of the Panes

One notable change has been the move away from dialog boxes and to task panes anchored to the right of the screen.  In previous versions of PowerPoint when an object was right-clicked the context menu usually offered the choice of formatting the object, which used to launch a free floating dialog box which was unusually confusing and difficult to work with.  The Microsoft engineers have tried to simplify this process with side-panes that contain the same commands, but arranged differently, with more relevant options visible and fewer navigation clicks required.  For example, right-clicking the background of a slide and choosing to format background now brings up the Format Background task pane.

Format Background Pane

I do find these panes more intuitive (if that can be said about something so packed with options) than the older dialog boxes.  It is only a slight adjustment to learn how to work with them, and in most cases these are tasks only undertaken by advanced users anyway, who will not be flummoxed by the changes.

Here is a video that summarizes some of these UI changes.