10 ways PowerPoint 2013 gets more polish

Thankfully, Microsoft is introducing some long-overdue changes to PowerPoint.

Love it or hate it, PowerPoint isn't going away any time soon; it remains the professional tool of choice for presentations. Features that were already in PowerPoint just became easier to discover and use with the 2013 release. For example, task panes and other elements now suggest options for tweaking your deck, rather than leaving you to find them yourself. You'll see fewer but more relevant choices, thanks to the new Themes and Variants--and you'll find tools that were previously hidden, such as Shape Merge. Here are 10 ways your workflow, from design to presentation, can be more efficient in the new PowerPoint.

To learn more about the new Office suite, find our full review of Office 2013, as well 10 killer features in the new Word 2013 and 10 awesome additions in Excel 2013. Read on for 10 reasons to consider an upgrade to PowerPoint 2013.

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1. Start at the new Start screen

As with the other key Office 2013 applications, PowerPoint 2013 shares the new Modern-style interface and a revamped Start screen. Instead of the blank presentation you started with in PowerPoint 2010, this screen is packed with options including a range of templates. Also on the Start screen is a link to your current online SharePoint or SkyDrive account, a list of recently accessed PowerPoint files, and an Open Other Presentations link which you use to access files on disk or stored in the cloud.

You can also search online for templates and themes from the Start screen; a list of suggested searches helps here.

2. Themes are sleeker, and Variants more varied

PowerPoint Themes are predesigned slide designs that spare you from doing the design work yourself. In PowerPoint 2010 there was a plethora of Themes, Color Schemes, Font Schemes and Effects to choose from. PowerPoint 2013 simplifies everything. The new Themes default to a 16:9 aspect ratio and each has a small subset of Variants, which provide variations in color and some design elements for that Theme.

You'll find Themes from both the Start screen and the new Design tab. On the Start screen you can click a Theme, preview its variant,s and scroll through previews of the Theme Title, Title and Content, Smart Chart and Photo layouts before committing to one to use.

3. Shape tools get improvements

Although some of the Merge Shapes features that are touted as being new in PowerPoint 2013 were in PowerPoint 2010, they weren't accessible from the Ribbon toolbar. In PowerPoint 2013, though, the Join, Combine, Fragment, Intersect and Subtract tools are accessible by selecting the Drawing Tools, Format tab and clicking the Merge Shapes button. You'll use these to create your own custom shapes by combining and merging simple shapes to make more complex ones. These tools have a handy live preview as well.

In addition, new alignment guides show when shapes are lined up to each other, to slide elements, and to borders and they make it easier to line up and space objects evenly on your slides.

4. Find new formatting tools

In PowerPoint 2013, you'll find many formatting features from task docked to the right of the screen as you work. In earlier versions of PowerPoint, these options appeared in dialogs over the slide, which you had to move or close to continue working.

To access these new task panes, right-click a shape, for example, and choose Format Shape to see the available options for a shape in the task pane. Click a picture and the task pane changes to show picture formatting options. While most of the formatting options are not new, this makes them easier to find.

New is the Eyedropper tool, available when you are making a color choice. Use this to match colors by sampling a color to use from a shape or photo.

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