Presentation Tools: Offline, Online and Something in Between

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Jon Udell writes today of the challenges inherent in creating (X)HTML based presentations based on HTML Slidy. The question is of more than academic interest to me, since I give a fair number of presentations – indeed, I have one coming up at the end of the month at the Zend Conference on the Do’s and Don’t’s of PHP in Corporate Web Apps (as a side note, if any of you are using PHP thusly, drop me a line – looking for examples to back up some of my points).

For some time now – ever since seeing S5 for the first time, I think – I’ve been considering the possibility of transitioning away from the traditional office productivity presentation format to one that’s more web native. Unlike Jon, however, I have yet to take that step. When I discussed services we use in the last RedMonk IT Report, Anthony wanted to know what I used for presentations, and for the past dozen or so decks I’ve prepared the answer has been OpenOffice.org. Of all of the OO.o applications, Presentation is perhaps my least favorite, but its affection for ODF/PDF (not to mention the fact that it runs on my OS) makes it the best choice.

I wonder for how long, though. It seems pointless – not to mention inefficient, in this day and age dominated by Ajax and the web, to link to a presentaton file, rather than the presentation. Do I really expect that my stripped down presentations are so compelling that people will first download them and then fire up OO.o/Powerpoint to view them? I think not.

My usage of the web native approach will come with an important caveat, however: anything network dependent is right out, to paraphrase the fine gents from Monty Python. Much as I might admire the technology behind online presenation applications such as Empressr or Thumbstack (first pointed out to me by Anthony), there is less than no chance that I would deliver a presentation at a conference and trust the network connection there to not hang, drop or otherwise borq my presentation. It’s not to say that there’s not a market for that type of functionality, please note: as an alternative to WebEx and so on, it’s a fine offering (as is the Presentation module from IceSoft, which I got a demo of a few weeks back and worked like a champ). But for my usage, it’s just not happening.

Even at a developer focused conference like ApacheCon or DebConf where – as Cote and I were just discussing on #redmonk – a lot of attention goes into connectivity (as opposed to the business focused conferences, where it’s more of an afterthought because everyone has Crackberries, EV-DO or both), I’m not willing as a presenter to place myself in thrall to a connection that I don’t control. To its credit, Zoho seems to understand the importance of that limitation, as their export to HTML facility allows for the bottling up and distribution of a presentation.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’m intrinsically more open to these online formats than more mainstream presenters. I’ve traditionally had little use for fancy slide transitions and so on, and at this point I’m trying to do less with my slides rather than more. Those who leverage Powerpoint and its counterparts extensively for things like animations and fancy visualizations, however, are likely to encounter some insurmountable issues with bare bones facilities like HTML Slidy/S5, or even the Empressr, Thumbstack or Zoho applications. From what I can tell, anyway. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, because for every adept user that leverages such functionality properly there are probably a thousand that do not. Be that as it may, some will undoubtedly disqualify the web native options because of the lack of such “functionality.” After all, if you can’t have all of your text fly in from the corner of the screen and spin around three times, how can you be expected deliver a presentation effectively?

The other important question here is reuse. I’m comfortable outputting my presentations into ODF because I know that should, as an example, one of my colleagues need to reuse my materials for a presentation of their own they’ll be able to do so. No matter that one’s on OS X and the other’s on Windows; ODF as a format supports clients on each platform so that Cote and James can both edit my decks once I’m done with them. The clients for editing of these documents may not be perfect, but they’re well know. The tooling for editing web native presentations, on the other hand, are less well understood. If you’re going the (X)HTML/CSS/etc route, however, the tools are not quite as clear. HTML by itself, of course, is fairly trivial. But I, for one, am not a CSS master. I’ll have to play with the web native formats a bit to see how difficult – or not – they are to achieve even the simple formatting that is my standard these days. Whether or not I use them for my upcoming talk at the Zend Conference remains to be seen, however.


  1. Have you seen SlideShare? It seems like it might be a good tool for transitioning from Office-esque presentations to web-friendly ones.

  2. The thing that kills me about S5 is the difficulty of making a theme and doing layout. I wish OOo’s ‘export to HTML’ exported to s5.

  3. Edward: no, i hadn’t. will give that a look as well.

    Luis: yeah, the available themes aren’t exactly thrilling me. but the export to S5 is a terrific idea, i think. maybe for an extension, even 😉

  4. I like S5, but is there anything similar that defaults to the handout mode instead of the slideshow? I want people to see a clean, simple page first with an option for switching to slideshow view.

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