Sunday, January 13, 2008

Do Your Presentations Impress?

Pretty much everyone has to give a presentation at some point, whether in class lectures, conferences, public lectures, or as part of a class assignment. Microsoft PowerPoint has swiftly taken over from the old days of slide projectors, overhead transparencies, and chalkboards. It's a point of debate whether or not this is entirely a good change, but it's the world within which we now live.

When I switched to from Microsoft Office, I was delighted to see a fully functional presentation program within the open source office suite. I've since used this program, Impress, to put together several new presentations, as well as edit some old ones. In this post, I'll briefly review my experiences.

Interface: The switch to Impress from PowerPoint was an easy one, interface-wise. Many features closely parallel those found in PowerPoint, and features that don't are logically arranged and pretty easy to find.

Software Features: I can do pretty much everything in Impress that I could do in PowerPoint. There are enough slide transitions, special effects, drawing tools, text formats, and other goodies to put together a truly hideous presentation, if one desires. One possible downside is that the default installation doesn't include a lot of prepackaged slide templates. This may matter to some folks, but I don't use templates often as it is.

Importing PowerPoint Presentations: I've found that my old PowerPoint files import nearly flawlessly in most cases. I hear that sometimes the really fancy special effects don't always import well, but should you really be using those in a talk that colleagues and potential employers might see?

Export PowerPoint Presentations: This can be a little more finicky. I like to build multiple bullet points on a slide, and have them fade to gray as I move on to subsequent points. This works fine in Impress, but for whatever reason the exported PPT files fade the text to a bluish gray. Annoying. I haven't found a workaround for this (other than creating multiple slides for the fade in and fade out of each point). Fortunately, this has been the main quirk I discovered.

Video Clips: This is the one area where Impress has consistently let me down - its support for embedding video clips within presentations stinks. It won't let you put an AVI file directly on a page, and I haven't even gotten the supposedly supported MPEG or MOV files to embed properly either. So, I've had to develop a work-around. Specifically, I create a hyperlink that links to the video file I want to play. Click on the link during the presentation, and up it appears! Of course, this might lead to trouble if you have to run your presentation on a computer other than the one which housed the video file originally.

Practical Realities: There isn't anything that would make me bail on Impress to return to PowerPoint. The program does what I need it to do, and does it pretty well (for the most part). If I can run off my own laptop, I can - this eliminates the problems of file export. If I have to export as a PowerPoint file and run it from PowerPoint, I make darned sure to test the file out beforehand. I haven't run into any true disasters in export, but there are occasionally those little quirks that annoy the perfectionist in me.


Mike Taylor said...

Hi, Andy, thanks for running this blog. Just wanted to highlight a n irritant that I've run into many times using OpenOffice to make presentations that I then convert to PowerPoint format so I can show them at conferences: that is that, often, the fonts look different when I run the PowerPoint file on the inevitable Windows PC. We're not talking about weirdo fonts here, but simple stuff like Helvetica that you'd have thought would work anywhere. Often the font is much wider in Windows than on Linux, so that I lose the ends of lines off the edge of the screen. Big pain. No doubt it's just that I don't have the necessary Windows fonts installed on Linux, but it would be nice if that happened by default.

Andy said...

Hmm. . .I've never had that problem. If I were to guess, it's probably what you think it is. Depending on what distro you're running, there's probably a place you can download a package with the relevant fonts. Ubuntu has it on one of the repositories. . .

Thanks for reading - I'm always interested to see other Linux geeks in the paleo community!

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