I've been tasked with making a powerpoint theme for the company I work for and one of the requirements is that it uses a font that comes standard with most computers. What are some of the built-in sans serif fonts that graphic designers respect and use more frequently?
Of the original "web-safe" (that is, as close to universal as you'll get on the Web) sans-serifs (Arial, Impact, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS, Verdana), Verdana tends to get the most love. It's well-designed and is designed to be readable on the screen. It was designed by Matthew Carter, a respected typeface designer, and the design itself is pretty original, so it doesn't get panned for its existence and history as much as Arial does. Also, MoMA added it to its design collection, calling it (and the others in the collection) "a milestone in the history of typography". A scientific study (funded by Microsoft, so take with a grain of salt) touted Verdana's readability, particularly at small sizes. It was one of the first fonts that was designed with readability on the screen particularly in mind, so it has a large x-height (good for seeing the lowercase letters) and is well-hinted. These advantages will become less relevant as pixel density increases, but they're good things to look for in a screen font for now.
Arial is almost universally panned by designers (see above link), Impact isn't practical outside of headlines, and even though Tahoma is more or less Verdana's skinny brother, it doesn't tend to draw as much praise. I've personally never minded Trebuchet as a choice, but it doesn't seem to be as common.
If you're using Office 2007 or later, the ClearType collection comes into play. Three sans-serifs are available: Calibri, Candara, and Corbel. Everything I've read about and them adds to my personal opinion - they're good fonts to use. Wikipedia told me that "Calibri won the TDC2 2005 award from the Type Directors Club under the Type System category."
If you have the right version of Publisher (ours was 2003), there are some extra fonts available. I'm not as knowledgeable about this, but I know that Publisher was the reason we ended up with Franklin Gothic on our PCs, and that is an excellent choice of a sans-serif.
I'll add a disclaimer - as John notes, you can embed fonts. If a font is not embedded, you're always at the mercy of someone else's system, and no font has 100% saturation everywhere.
Steer clear of the original "safe" fonts: Verdana, Arial, Times, Tahoma, whatever. There are more flexible fonts available now, designed for today's quality display panels.
Work smarter and start using Google presentations (via Drive), where you have access to the myriad fonts available on Google fonts. Not only do you get a reliable set of awesome fonts, you get bonus points for collaboration and portability.
If that's not an option, I'd recommend Microsoft's 'C' fonts. They are all well designed for screen rendering and available wherever those terrible Microsoft Office products are installed.
I'm not sure how Powerpoint handles fallback for each font, but a quick search for web-safe fonts reveals these Windows/Mac (considered close enough) pairs:
Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif
"Lucida Sans Unicode", "Lucida Grande", sans-serif
Tahoma, Geneva, sans-serif
"Trebuchet MS", Helvetica, sans-serif
Verdana, Geneva, sans-serif
Personally I use "Century Gothic", "Century", sans-serif, although I guess it technically doesn't make the official web-safe list.
Why is that one of the requirements? If it is so that the presentation will look the same on any computer, then I'd recommend another route: embed the font in the file
Obviously this is something you will want to test on different computers/operating systems to ensure that it saved properly, but the extra styling flexibility will surely be worth the work.
Segoe UI (as @Supuhstar already suggested) - An overall great sans but the best italic variant of any sans, commercial or system included, hands down. Bold works comfortably in display sizes since Segoe UI Black is not system.
Other articles will point out that Segoe UI Black is not installed on Macs, even with Microsoft Office 2016. There are a number of reasons for that, but my web searches have shown that Segoe UI was originally intended to be a screen display, or User Interface font on Windows (that's what UI stands for). Some argue that it is for computer developers ONLY, and illegal to use Segoe in publications or designs. But once Microsoft installed the font on computers owned by the general public with Windows or Office, the horse got out of the barn.
I first noticed Segoe UI on Windows 7 computers in Microsoft Office 2013. When my employer issued me a Windows 10 computer, I found Segoe UI Black, an excellent title font, which draws more attention than Segoe UI Bold or Semibold. Segoe UI Black is not available on the Windows 7 machines where I work.
For Mac users, Myriad Pro Black is a reasonable substitute -- which must be purchased. I own a Mac at home, and I use Myriad Pro Black on my own projects. My license covers up to five computers.
I design publications which are either printed or placed as PDFs on my employer's website. To keep end users — viewing the PDFs on Macs or other computers without Segoe UI black — from seeing strange generic fonts, I convert the text in the PDFs to shapes before submitting them for web publication. This also avoids legal entanglements over embedded fonts.