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Collaborating on Presentations : Evaluating Web-Based Presentation Applications (part 1)

8/12/2011 6:30:35 PM
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Preparing Presentations Online

Working with an online presentation application is no different from working with any other web-based application. Users from multiple locations can access the presentation directly from any Internet-connected computer, making it easy to assemble a presentation via group collaboration. This is becoming an essential feature, as more and more presentations for large organizations are created by multiple people from different departments or disciplines. For example, you may have one piece of the presentation created by the marketing department, another by the accounting or finance department, and another by the sales department. With the desktop-bound PowerPoint, this would require the passing around (via email) and synchronizing of on or more PowerPoint files. With a web-based app, each department can work on its part of the master file simultaneously—even if it’s not in the same physical location or time zone.

Another benefit from using a web-based presentation program is that you don’t have to worry about loading the presentation file onto your notebook, taking it with you to a remote meeting site, and connecting your equipment to the room’s projector and other hardware. Instead, you can use a PC provided by the meeting site and just connect to the web to access your presentation; you don’t even have to take your notebook with you.

Most web-based presentation programs even let you import your existing PowerPoint presentations. This is great if you’ve already created a presentation or template that you want to reuse in the future; you can then give your existing presentation from the web.

The only problem with some web-based presentation applications is that you don’t always have the same range of graphics, transitions, and effects available to you as you do with PowerPoint. (PowerPoint is a very full-featured program.) So you want to be sure you’re comfortable with the options available before you switch from PowerPoint to a web-based alternative.

Evaluating Web-Based Presentation Applications

Unlike some other application categories, there is no clear-cut leader in the web-based presentation market. Some users like Google Presentations, some like Zoho Show, some have other favorites. So take a careful look at the following applications and choose the one that offers the right features for your needs.

BrinkPad

BrinkPad (www.brinkpad.com) is a Java applet that works inside any web browser. It lets you create, save, and publish your presentations and slide shows on the web. It also lets others share and collaborate on your presentations.

The BrinkPad interface, shown in Figure 1, is fairly intuitive. But it doesn’t offer much in the way of predesigned templates, offers no slide transition effects, and doesn’t include charting or table tools. You do get rudimentary drawing tools, however, which enable you to mix illustrations, text, and imported digital pictures. So BrinkPad’s limited functionality means that it’s not yet a satisfactory replacement for PowerPoint.

Figure 1. The easy-to-use interface for BrinkPad.

Empressr

Empressr (www.empressr.com) offers more functionality than BrinkPad and similar applications, via an interface that should be somewhat familiar to PowerPoint users. You can insert text, shapes, tables, or charts onto any slide. You can even create custom slide backgrounds.

As you can see in Figure 2, Empressr lets you create charts, which many web-based presentation apps don’t. You also get a range of slide transition effects, something else you don’t find with many competing applications. These features make Empressr the application of choice for heavy PowerPoint users wanting to make the switch to a web-based application.

Figure 2. Creating a new slide with Empressr, complete with chart and transition effect.

Google Presentations

If there’s a leader in the online presentations market, it’s probably Google Presentations, simply because of Google’s dominant position with other web-based office apps. Google Presentations is the latest addition to the Google Docs suite of apps, joining the Google Docs word processor and Google Spreadsheets spreadsheet application.

Users can create new presentations and open existing ones from the main Google Docs page (docs.google.com). Open a presentation by clicking its title or icon. Create a new presentation by selecting New, then Presentation. Your presentation now opens in a new window on your desktop.

As you can see in Figure 3, the Google Presentations interface looks a lot like older versions of PowerPoint, but with a few features missing. In particular, although you include text, images, and shapes on a slide, there’s no chart-making facility. In addition, Google Presentations at present doesn’t offer any slide animations.

Figure 3. Editing slides with Google Presentations.

What you do get is the ability to add title, text, and blank slides; a PowerPoint-like slide sorter pane; a selection of predesigned themes (shown in Figure 4); the ability to publish your file to the web or export as a PowerPoint PPT or Adobe PDF file; and quick and easy sharing and collaboration, the same as with Google’s other web-based apps.

Figure 4. Some predesigned slide themes in Google Presentations.


If you use the other Google Docs apps, Google Presentations should be a natural choice. However, the lack of advanced presentation features might cause power PowerPoint users to look elsewhere for their online presentation needs.

Preezo

If you’re looking to a slightly more full-featured alternative to Google Presentations, check out Preezo (www.preezo.com). Although Preezo, like Google Presentations, doesn’t offer chart creation, it does add a bevy of slide transition effects.

As you can see in Figure 5, Preezo even looks a lot like Google Presentations. You get the obligatory slide sorter in the leftmost pane, the current slide in the main window, and all available editing and formatting options in a toolbar and series of pull-down menus. Slide transition effects include wipes, fades, splits, and pushes.

Figure 5. Editing a Preezo presentation.

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