Presentation Software-For Free

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

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Just finished my semester here at University of Texas at Dallas, which gives me time to return to this neglected blog.

Over a month ago I signed up for a beta-invite for Sliderocket, a what looked to be promising online presentation tool. Think of it as Google Docs for Power Point. To be sure there are several free options for presentation software out there, but none are as feature rich as I would like. And since slides are all about visual presentation I don’t just want something that lets me make bullet points or show slides of text. I want something that looks nice. After playing with Sliderocket for several hours, I can say so far it is the best in its class.

Why would you want one of these? Why use a web based application when a desktop based one works so well? Good question. I don’t see web based applications replacing desktop applications completely but they are useful in ways that desktop versions are often not. For instance, web based applications allow you to collaboratively author a document/work together in real time. Several times over the course of the semester I used Google Docs to work on a document with colleagues, either simultaneously, or back and forth over the course of several days (without having to navigate swapping files, which can get tricky when we are using different applications). Having a good slide creation program will allow me to collaboratively create slide presentations with others, or you can require students to use it, allowing you to easily add comments directly to the slide (again sans the problem of swapping files). Second, while I probably won’t be giving up Keynote anytime soon, a web based application will allow me to edit a presentation easily when I don’t have my computer. I am big on being redundant with presentation information. When I am going somewhere to give a talk I always have the slides available on the net somewhere in case my computer crashes/dies or can’t be hooked to projector etc. . .So, having a backup for editing is also a good idea. And finally, having a free online tool to which you can point students is important. This way students can author presentations/documents without having to buy expensive software (a presentation authored in Sliderocket could easily look better than Power Point-and its free).

Why Sliderocket “rocks:” Unlike a few other free versions out there (including both web based and desktop based) the people who designed Sliderocket understand that slide presentation is a visual/layout “thing”, not a text/word “thing.” All of the essential features are there: images, build in, build out, slide transition (those ones only available in Keynote, can now be used thanks to flash on a PC), embed movies, embed audio, text manipulation, etc. Right now they only offer five templates (but they are the only ones I really want). You can upload presentations for Power Point (not from Keynote though, which isn’t really too much an issue as Keynote exports to Power Point).

But where Sliderocket really shines is in its ability to share. As you create you can share whole presentations, or individual slides, for collaborative editing or viewing. You can even use Sliderocket to host a “meeting,” giving out the web address for others to view the presentation. And again because it is done in flash, you don’t have to make the sacrifices in style necessary to use something like Slideshare (which I currently rely on).

Sliderocket does have a few limits. First, it is still in beta so you will have to sign up and wait in line to give it a try, and it could be a bit buggy (although I had no problems). Second the load times were a bit more than I would like, nothing annoying but just that extra second too long. In fairness this could be a result of the internet connection I am working from, but this is something to keep in mind (more data is being transfered here than via a much simpler web application). Finally, no web application yet is faster than what I can do with a desktop one. This is partly because of speed of connection, load times etc., but also partly because of things like keyboard shortcuts, automation etc. So, while I probably won’t use Sliderocket as my replacement for Keynote, it will be my collaborative tool of choice (just as soon as all my friends get invites).