presentation programs – Software Review – Evaluation
Give your ideas the eye-popping treatment they deserve with one of these professional packages
WANT TO GET YOUR MESSAGE across to a large audience? Need to impress a client with your portfolio or sales pitch? Armed with presentation software and a little imagination, you can produce a professional-looking slide show, complete with attractive transitions, sound effects, videoclips, and even voice-over commentary.
We took a look at five leading Windows presentation software packages, and discovered that all of them work in similar ways: You first select a template design containing the background colors, fonts, and graphics that will set the tone of your presentation. Many let you start with a canned presentation, containing boilerplate text for everything from a business plan to a corporate overview.
Next, you can organize your thoughts or bullet points by using a program’s outline view. You’re then free to fine-tune each slide–adding graphics, charts, animation, and multimedia effects–in the program’s one-slide-at-a-time view.
Once your slides are complete, you use a sorter view to preview them as thumbnails and rearrange them as you see fit. All of the applications here offer the chance to preview your slide show and rehearse your timing at any step of the process.
Aside from their different templates and clip art, the programs vary mainly in their distribution and Internet conveniences. Although each program can package a presentation with a runtime player so it will run as a stand-alone application, Astound and Microsoft PowerPoint also support interactive Internet shows–helpful when you can’t present in person. (See this month’s Can Do section for a step-by-step guide to creating online presentations.) Corel Presentations, for its part, can export your slides as Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files–great for distribution on a CD.
Lotus Freelance leans toward sophisticated network collaboration, so you can present a show simultaneously to everyone at the corporate office (provided, of course, they’re using Lotus SmartSuite). And with the exception of Harvard Graphics, all of these programs can mutate your slides into Web pages, so you can post the show on a Web site.
Another point of variability is the quality of templates and drawing tools. The artistically disadvantaged should look closely at PowerPoint, which has the classiest clip art and the widest selection of attractive templates. Perhaps drawing on some CorelDraw DNA, Corel Presentations has the strongest drawing tools in the roundup. Astound and Harvard Graphics include utilities for creating interesting text effects, and Freelance offers excellent diagramming capability.
As potent as these presentation tools are, they can’t turn a weak message into a memorable one. Keep each slide short–no more than three or four points–and always favor content over spinning globes and bouncing text. Even when it comes to PC presentations, you don’t want your medium to overcome your message.
The winning entry when it comes to creating presentations with animation and multimedia effects, Astound 6 ($395) comes with more than 100 gorgeous template styles, an excellent bundled program for creating animated 3D text, and a spectacular library of sound and videoclips and photos. Oddly, the package offers only 10 canned presentations–a minus for busy home-based workers who need professional slides in a hurry.
Although Astound isn’t difficult to learn, the absence of online tutorials or helpful onscreen walk-throughs makes the program harder to master than it should be. The documentation is silent about some features, including the 3D text utility; the display isn’t customizable, and lacks pop-up tool tips. A status bar on the bottom of the screen provides minimal feedback about the current task.
But what Astound lacks in ease-of-use niceties, it makes up for in multimedia. You can drop sophisticated effects onto slides using simple toolbar buttons. In addition, you’ll find support for the latest Web multimedia formats, such as PNG, MP3, and RealMedia G2 files.
Astound’s sophisticated Web features make it a good choice if you’re planning an Internet presentation. As with PowerPoint, you can preview slides in your browser, but Astound also lets you add Java applets and other Internet components, such as ActiveX controls and Visual Basic scripts. When you want to distribute your presentation, the included Web Conference Publisher automatically converts presentations into either static or dynamic HTML and immediately posts them to the Web. Web conferences can be played back in any Java-enabled browser.
Despite its meager documentation and ho-hum interface, we were wowed by Astound’s capabilities. If you relish assembling complex animations and adding cool special effects to presentations–and don’t mind the price and the learning curve–this is the program for you.
Corel Presentations 2000
Corel has incorporated first-rate drawing and image editing tools into Presentations 2000 ($300 as part of WordPerfect Office 2000 Standard Edition). The suite ships with an extensive library of fonts and clip art, making it one of the most complete presentation packages on the market.
As for Presentations itself, the program offers several attractive ease-of-use features, including online context-sensitive help, vertical tabs to switch between different views, and the ability to build macros to automate your work. If you’re a programmer, you can even use Visual Basic to write complex routines.
Corel has added considerable Web power to Presentations 2000 in the form of the Internet Publisher Wizard. This module allows you to specify a variety of page layouts for your slides, including graphic formats, display sizes, colors, and button styles. Unfortunately, you can’t preview Web pages from within Presentations itself, and some of our test files did not display correctly in our browser.
The program can also save a slide show in PDF format, though a few of our slide backgrounds previewed inaccurately. Presentations lacks the interactive Internet slide shows found in some of the other programs, but it does include the ability to save shows in PowerPoint format–useful if you want to broadcast your slide presentation to a Microsoft Office environment.
On the downside, multimedia and animation features are scarce–you can add simple animations to objects and bulleted lists, but the program doesn’t sing and dance the way Astound does.
We found Presentations easy to learn, but not exceptionally feature-rich, and its output is occasionally at odds with what you see in the slide view. For these reasons, we don’t see Presentations expanding its audience beyond existing WordPerfect Office users.
Harvard Graphics 98
Way back in the DOS days, the name Harvard Graphics was synonymous with professional presentations. Today’s Harvard Graphics 98 is a competent presentation package, but it looks and feels passe–and at $295, it seems overpriced. This is especially true if you buy Lotus Freelance, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Corel Presentations as part of an entire office suite, complete with clip art and multimedia libraries.
Harvard’s interface resembles PowerPoint’s, but is less customizable. You can learn the basics by running the provided onscreen tutorial or reading the included manual; but if you’ve used presentation software before, you’ll be up and running in a few minutes. Newbies will appreciate the Advisor window, which provides tips and checks slides for design errors.
You can drop both animations and videos onto your slides, but we found the implementation confusing, and there’s no preview feature to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. Voice-over sound recordings can accompany each slide, and you can scribble on slides during a presentation. Special text effects are easy, thanks to the external drawing module, though you’ll spend considerable time waiting for special effects to be drawn onscreen.
Distribution of your presentation can be tricky; if you want to send your presentation out on CD, you’ll have to send the supplied viewer along with it. Presentations can be shown simultaneously to a maximum of 64 machines on a network, however. And while there’s a plug-in provided on the program CD for watching the presentation from Microsoft Internet Explorer 3, neither later versions of IE nor Netscape Navigator is supported.
Finally, Harvard’s Internet support is poor–there’s no export filter for saving slides in HTML format (although you can send the presentation files to a Web site using Microsoft Web Publisher).
Overall, Harvard Graphics 98 is a decent upgrade for users of earlier versions, but too costly and limited to compete with the other programs in this roundup.
Lotus Freelance Graphics Millennium Edition
Lotus Freelance Graphics ($472 as part of Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition) is a delight to use; an uncluttered screen, large buttons, context-sensitive guides, and informative tool tips make this program remarkably easy to master. It’s a good thing, too, because the package comes with no manual; the suite ships with a third-party book containing two scant chapters on the program.
Freelance’s best feature is its network collaboration–you can broadcast live presentations, e-mail them to colleagues, and post them to a Lotus Notes database. Web support is very good, but not quite as flexible as Astound’s or PowerPoint’s. You can export slide shows in HTML format and open Web pages directly from within Freelance, but you can’t run an interactive presentation over the Net.
We were impressed with Freelance’s drawing tools, which are especially powerful for creating complex flowcharts and diagrams. For example, you can fill shapes with text and use connectors that stay attached to objects when you move them around. The clip art library is extensive and available from a handy onscreen window, but the art itself is uninspiring.
Freelance is unique in its support for word processor-like text styles–predefined attributes that can be applied to text, a time-saving formatting feature. Dropping movies and sound onto slides is simple; SmartSuite also includes ScreenCam for recording movies.
You can attach transitions to both slides and individual objects, and objects can serve as hyperlinks to other events. Even inexperienced users can produce sophisticated, fully integrated multimedia presentations.
The only problem with Lotus Freelance is that there aren’t many extras in the box: Animation effects are sparse, advanced Internet features are absent, and text effects are limited to a few predefined choices. But if you’re looking for an easy-to-use package with strong network support, Freelance is a sound choice.
Microsoft PowerPoint 2000
These days, business people use “PowerPoint” as a verb. PowerPoint 2000 deserves its market dominance–it’s a feature-rich application that’s beautifully integrated with its Office suitemates. At $599 as part of Microsoft Office 2000 Professional, it’s the most expensive software in the roundup, but we found it well worth the price. Besides, the upgrade is only $349.
The program ships with 44 professional template styles, as well as an extensive selection of canned presentations, several Web site designs, and a large, high-quality clip art library. The last is nicely integrated into the main program–it’s easy to search for theme art or multimedia clips and drop them onto your slides. PowerPoint even lets you insert pictures directly from a scanner or digital camera.
PowerPoint 2000 is also one of the easiest presentation packages to learn and use, especially if you’re already a Word and Excel user. You’ll find familiar customizable toolbars and wizards, augmented with tips for polishing your show. Unlike other programs that make you switch between slide and outline views to see changes and add notes, PowerPoint 2000 uses a unique, convenient combination view.
If your presentation is Web-bound, you’ll like PowerPoint’s ability to preview slides in a browser, save presentations in HTML, and specify browser version compatibility (an important consideration if your viewers are using older browsers). PowerPoint’s only flaw in this area is its inability to easily add cutting-edge components such as Java applets to presentations.
All of these programs can create charts from built-in or external spreadsheets, but if your show relies on charting, PowerPoint is the top choice, offering the widest range of graph types and the most flexible integration with spreadsheet data.
Finally, PowerPoint’s collaboration features are first-class. You can set up and engage in online meetings, both to give presentations and to have associates critique your show.
Whether you’re using PowerPoint by yourself or in a workgroup, its broad and capable functionality make it our top pick.
Showtime All these packages can help you create the slide show of the century, but be sure to choose one that offers the tools and Web savvy that your business requires.
Program Astound 6 Corel Presentations 2000
VENDOR Astound Inc. Corel Corp.
PRICE $395 $300 as part of
WordPerfect Office 2000
RATING 8.0 8.2
PROS Superb Web and multimedia Inexpensive, easy to use
CONS Bare-bones documentation, Limited animation
few canned presentations functionality
VERDICT The best choice for A great volume, but
Internet showtoppers mainly for WordPerfect
Lotus Freelance Graphics
Program Harvard Publishing 98 Millenium Edition
VENDOR Software Publishing Corp. Lotus Development Corp.
PRICE $295 $472 as part of Lotus
RATING 6.9 8.0
PROS Terrific drawing tools Great interface, superb
CONS Expensive for what you Mediocre clip art and
get, limited Internet animation
VERDICT Can create fine Best choice for intranets
presentation, but a networks
Program Microsoft Powerpoint 2000
VENDOR Microsoft Corp.
PRICE $599 as part of Microsoft
Office 2000 Professional
PROS Great selection of
and clip art
CONS Pricey; lacks some
VERDICT A top all-around performer
Corel Presentations 2000
Harvard Graphics 98
Lotus Freelance Graphics
Microsoft PowerPoint 2000
HOME OFFICE COMPUTING’S product scores are weighted averages of 1- to 10-point ratings for: Value (30 percent of total), Performance (30 percent of total), Ease of use (20 percent of total), and Suitability for Home Office Use (20 percent of total).
V = Value
P = Performance
E = Ease of Use
S = Suitability forHome Office Use
RELATED ARTICLE: PROJECTION
If your business depends on portable presentations, you might want to invest in a portable projector. Compact and weighing less than 11 pounds, these units fit easily in the overhead bin of an airplane. Cost is the only reason to hesitate: The least expensive units start at around $3,000.
Projectors come in three native resolutions: XGA (1,024 by 768), SVGA (800 by 600), and VGA (640 by 480). If you’re spending this kind of money, spring for a high-resolution model. Also consider the lumen power, or projection brightness. Most portable projectors offer between 650 and 1,000 lumens–sufficient to work in dimly lit rooms.
You can add extras such as zoom lenses, programmable remote controls, loudspeakers, TV tuners, video inputs, laser pointers, and document cameras that project paper documents.
Some projectors proudly call themselves “ultraportable,” and offer small size and light weight. Lightware’s Scout (www.lightware.com)–roughly the length and
width of a sheet of paper–weighs about 5 pounds and costs $2,995. Likewise, InFocus’s 4.9-pound XGA LP330 (www.infocus.com) is a bargain at $2,995. Compaq’s tiny MP1600 (www.compaq.com) weighs only 4.2 pounds, but costs $4,499.
You can also opt for larger and more expensive models that boast more features. The Toshiba TLP650 (www.toshiba.com) sells for $6,995, and the NEC LT100 (www.nectech.com) sells for $7,995. Both are XGA units, weigh about 10 pounds each, and come with document cameras and support for dual computer and video inputs. Similarly, the 9.4-pound, XGA-resolution Epson ELP7500c (www.epson. com) features a five-year lamp and a zoom lens. It will set you back almost $10,000.
RELATED ARTICLE: PRESENTATIONS IN YOUR POCKET
Want to put on a show without carrying a lot of props? You don’t need a full-size Windows 98 laptop to give an off-site Microsoft PowerPoint presentation–Windows CE-based Handheld PC Pro devices such as IBM’s WorkPad z50 and Compaq’s Aero 8000 feature Pocket PowerPoint, which lets you show presentations transferred from a larger PC. Most H/PC Pros’ LCD screens are too small and dim for more than a few viewers, but you can plug the palmtop into an external monitor.
Pocket PowerPoint permits you to see speaker notes and even circle or underline items on the handheld’s screen, but you can’t create a presentation with it–aside from editing title slides for different audiences, it’s merely a player for existing PowerPoint files. So what happens when you need to whip up a new slide show on the road, carrying only your Windows CE machine?
You can save the day with Outline Converter, one of the free utilities available for download in Microsoft’s H/PC Pro Plus Pack (www.microsoft.com/windowsce/products). As its name implies, this filter turns outlines created with the palmtop’s Pocket Word into simple text slides for Pocket PowerPoint. Each Level 1 item becomes a slide heading, with room for two or three indented points beneath.
You won’t find any nifty transitions, multimedia effects, or choice of fonts, but you can choose your slides’ background color and add an image such as your company logo. Images can be placed in any corner of your slides or scaled to form a backdrop. A similar, slightly fancier utility called Jetcet PowerPoint Companion is bundled with NEC’s MobilePro 770 and 800.
For more impressive presentations, there’s Image Expert CE ($40; Sierra Imaging, 877-446-2439, www.sierraimaging.com). This graphics manager for Win CE handheld and palm-size PCs serves primarily to preview and catalog image files, especially from a digital camera. It also lets you arrange images, superimpose text over them, and even specify a WAV sound file or narration clip to accompany each one in a slide show.
SUSAN GLINERT is a frequent contributor to HOME OFFICE COMPUTING.3
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