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Life after PowerPoint: Alternative software tools for great presentations


It may seem that Microsoft PowerPoint has the presentation software market covered, but there are other solutions available, both for your desktop machine and via the web. Technology correspondent Jon Wilcox investigates alternative presentation tools and resources.

For many users, Microsoft PowerPoint is the default presentation tool. Long-standing, largely stable, and an integral part of the wider Microsoft Office suite of applications, PowerPoint is the natural choice for many people. There are alternatives however, both on-premise packages that you load and run on your computer and on-demand applications that are delivered over the internet. There are also add-on tools that can help both enhance presentations and deliver them to a wider audience.

Rich internet applications (RIA) and on-demand programs are becoming increasingly common; Google Documents has included a presentation application since September 2007, and Microsoft is looking to bridge the gap between on-premise and online solutions with Microsoft Office 14. Online applications specific to delivering and webcasting presentations are also becoming available. The objective of this article is to convince you there’s more to presentations than PowerPoint and to introduce you to some of the other software contenders!


Microsoft Office PowerPoint
Microsoft PowerPoint remains the dominant presentation tool of our era. Part of Microsoft’s Office suite of applications (excluding the Basic Edition), PowerPoint offers a comprehensive library of supporting media and rich image effects. With such high penetration in the business market, PowerPoint has continued to develop and grow, with the 2007 edition introducing new features such as SmartArt. The application is also strengthened by the variety of add-ins, including PPL to PDF and Flash video conversions, available through the
Office Marketplace. Impress
An element of the open source OpenOffice suite, Impress has rapidly caught up with PowerPoint in recent years, thanks to two major updates in three years. The feature list for Impress has now achieved virtual parity with Microsoft's flagship and retains some of the features dropped from PowerPoint 2007. However the ageing look of the interface and continued lack of a template library remains a key weaknesses for Impress. Some templates are available from the website, together with additional extensions for further functionality.

iWork Keynote 09
The iWorks Keynote module is a solid presentation platform for Apple users who don’t use Microsoft Office for Mac or The real strength of Keynote 09, the latest edition of the software, is a feature list that will help make presentations increasingly engaging. In addition to Magic Move, which takes the notion of slide transitions to a new level, Keynote also allows users to save in the Microsoft Office PowerPoint file format, and control the slideshow with an application for the iPhone/iPod Touch. There is an argument that Keynote isn’t perhaps for the serious presentation builder, but it does have enough tricks up its sleeve to keep an audience transfixed if used compellingly.


A dedicated Software as a Service (SaaS) solution for creating rich and engaging presentations, SlideRocket provides a strong collection of tools and resources. The layout of SlideRocket is different to PowerPoint, but is clean and uncluttered, increasing its accessibility. Three levels of membership are available, providing access to a support network of demos, tutorials, plus an email/phone helpdesk for subscribers. SlideRocket includes an offline player, a versioning tool, PowerPoint import/export and the ability to embed presentations within a website. SlideRocket is perhaps the closest online alternative to PowerPoint.

Google Documents Presentation
Launched in September 2007 as part of Google’s Cloud-based office suite, Presentation is free, but restricted to a basic selection of tools and features. Facilities many users would expect such as clip art and table capabilities aren’t available. The weakest of the three core Google Documents applications, Presentation will need a radical update if it’s to become a viable Cloud-based rival to the on-premise offerings.

Zoho Show
A free rival to Google Documents, Zoho’s Show web application delivers a superior level of functionality. Like Google Presentation, Zoho Show includes the ability to import both PowerPoint and Impress files, but includes a clip art gallery, flow chart symbols, and more. Direct image imports from Flickr and Picassa are also available, making it a far better choice than its Google counterpart.

Prezi is a new, Flash-driven application that launched on 5 April 2009 and brings a new approach to a well worn field. The digital equivalent of creating a presentation on a single piece of paper, Prezi allows users to zoom and rotate into text and embedded media directly into the blank space. The online application comes with several design templates together with a preset selection font styles that will hopefully grow as the system matures. User support is offered through a selection of tutorials and a regular blog. Prezi is available as three different versions, including a Pro edition costing €119 per year. Thanks to
Garry Platt for this recommendation.

Other Solutions & Resources

YouTube may be the repository for countless comedy clips, music videos, and guitar tutorials, but the Google-owned website can also become a handy tool to distribute presentations across the web. The ability to create and brand a channel on the website makes it a potentially core tool for users to archive presentations, which can be uploaded in a number of formats, including Flash video files. Working in conjunction with’s Impress or a version of PowerPoint with an ‘export to FLV’ add-in, users can take advantage of YouTube to take presentations online as webcasts. Screen recording software such as Camtasia even includes a YouTube preset, enabling streamlined exporting to the video sharing site. YouTube videos have a maximum length of 10 minutes however, so breaking down presentations into appropriate sections is a worthy exercise.

Tips for Camtasia users

● Record the screen at the same resolution that you want the final clip to be; as soon as you scale a video clip, the resolution tends to suffer.

● When exporting a recording, experiment with the production settings. Flash is probably the most popular format and the JPEG compression factor in the Flash Options screen has a significant effect on overall file size.

● For greatest compatibility and least need of third party add-ins and plug-ins, produce small animations as animated GIFs.

Source: Simon Hurst, The Knowledge Base

TechSmith Camtasia Studio
TechSmith's Camtasia Studio is an essential tool for online presentation development and delivery - most notably for its ability to record an on-screen presentation live. The recording can then be compressed into a smaller file size for delivery on the web. Uploading presentations to YouTube isn’t the only option: TechSmith’s allows users to submit presentations in RSS feeds and podcasts, including iTunes, allowing playback on portable devices. However, Camtasia Studio places some very stiff demands on hardware - for PowerPoint recording, TechSmith recommends a PC with a CPU speed of at least 3.0GHz and 2GB of RAM. Camtasia Studio is currently available from the TechSmith website for $299.

TechSmith SnagIt
A very useful tool to grab screens, images, video frames, and text from the web, TechSmith’s SnagIt can capture a range of potential assets for use in a presentation. The software includes a range of functions, including editing tools, which can then be directly imported into presentation software. Available for $49.95. Simon Hurst warns that when using screen capture tools including SnagIt, file size is likely to be an issue, so be careful about the colour depth and screen resolutions you use.

A way to inject audience participation into a presentation, Yawnbuster allows users to pose questions and build up a graphical display based on the opinions of the audience. Yawnbuster comes packaged with eight pre-developed activities to ‘energise’ presentations, including Show of Hands (used to gauge initial opinions or conduct polls) and Sequence, which allows key events to be dragged into a correct sequence. Despite its potential to liven up presentations, its $240 price tag will put off those who just want an occasional tool. Thanks to
Tim Drewitt for bringing Yawnbuster to our attention.

Our thanks to all TrainingZone members for their contributions to this article. Leave a comment below if you'd like to share more about your experiences of using alternative software to PowerPoint.

Jon Wilcox is Technology correspondent for the Sift Media portfolio, which includes You can follow Jon and Sift Media’s Technology editor, John Stokdyk, on TwitterAre they listening at the back? PowerPoint tips for trainers
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TrainingZone PowerPoint resources

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