If you have Office, you have PowerPoint, presentation software that's easy to use and cause for debate among users and experts alike. You love it or you hate it. But if you hate it or you just don't want to purchase Office, you're not stuck. There are alternatives and most of them will get the job done just fine.
Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.
1: ImpressOpenOffice.org Impress is part of the free OpenOffice.org suite of business software. The user interface, shown in Figure A, is amazingly similar to PowerPoint 2003. If you can use PowerPoint, you'll be up and running with Impress in minutes. Like PowerPoint, Impress offers master slides, layout options, object inspection via right-clicking, animation, transitions, and plenty of toys.
OpenOffice.org Impress is similar to PowerPoint 2003.
Technically, it's free (and open source). If you use it, consider a donation to help support and maintain the community.
2: PreziIf you're looking for a cloud-based presentation app, take a look at Prezi.com. It uses Adobe Flash to quickly create edgy animated presentations. There are no slides. Instead, you store everything on a huge canvas and then choreograph the show. To create a new Prezi, supply a name and description, as shown in Figure B. Then, choose a blank Prezi or a template. (The first time you use Prezi, you'll have the opportunity to view a short tutorial.) Figure C shows a blank Prezi, ready for text and graphics. You can even convert PowerPoint slides to a Prezi.
All Prezis start here.
Add presentation text and graphics to this blank canvas.
Although Prezi is easy to learn, it's different enough that it might intimidate you just a bit. Prezi's zooming nature gives it a bit of a contemporary edge, but it won't be right for every presentation. When it is right, it'll be just the right tool.
You can play in the cloud free, but all your Prezis are public. You can, however, download them and present offline. A private subscription is $59 a year, and for $159 a year, you can add full support to your subscription.
3: Google PresentationIf you haven't tried Google Docs Presentation in a while, take another look. Google recently revamped the app and it's got a lot more to offer than before. Just pull up Google.com and choose Documents from the More menu. If you don't have an account, you'll need to create one. Once you're in, click Create and choose Presentation. Work through the tutorial to the user interface shown in Figure D. This Web-based app requires a recent version of Internet Explorer or Chrome to tap into its newest features. Google Docs is free, but you're working in the cloud.
Google Docs Presentation interface is utilitarian but effective.
4: SlideRocketAnother Web-based presentation app, SlideRocket, offers some impressive and advanced animations and transitions. It's a good choice for creating a Web presentation. Searching for and adding Web content requires just a few clicks. (The interface might seem unfamiliar at first, so take the short tutorial.) You'll spend most of your time working in the Editing window, shown in Figure E. It's probably the most comprehensive alternative, when compared to PowerPoint. But the free version lets you publish only as a Web URL -- you can't view your work offline. For $24 a month (per user), you can download your presentation as a PowerPoint or PDF file.
Manipulate slides in the Editing window.
5: FlairWildform's Flair is a desktop app that produces Flash-based presentations, but you don't have to know Flash to benefit from its pizazz. That's Flair's biggest plus. And even at a pricey $199, it's still cheaper than Flash, so it's probably worth it to the right buyers. For the most part, Flair is straightforward to use. Its strength lies in its built-in video and audio recording capabilities, making it a reasonable option for e-learning products. It also converts PowerPoint files to Flash. The Edit User interface, shown in Figure F, is familiar enough to get you started. There's a ton of online training and a ton of templates.
You'll use edit mode to create and modify slides.
For the price, you'd expect a free trial, but there isn't one. You can download a demo, but they don't make it easy.
What presentation software do you use?
Have you used any of the apps listed here? Or do you just stick with PowerPoint for creating and delivering your slide shows?
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.