In my previous articles, I compared the word processing components and spreadsheet programs among three suites: Microsoft’s Office XP, Corel’s WordPerfect, and Sun’s StarOffice. In my final comparison, I’m turning my attention to each product’s presentation program. Here’s how Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Corel Presentations 9, and the beta version of StarOffice Impress 6 compare.

Dissimilar interfaces
When comparing the word processing and spreadsheet applications of each office suite, the first thing I noticed was their similar interfaces. However, the opposite is true of the presentation packages. Both Presentations and Impress have left-hand tool bars, but PowerPoint (Figure A) uses this space to display a graphical representation of each slide in a presentation.

Figure A
PowerPoint’s tool bars are at the top of the screen.

Presentations (Figure B) and Impress (Figure C) allow you to move between slides via tabs at the bottom of the screen, while PowerPoint provides small images displayed on the left of the main window for the same function. Also, PowerPoint displays each slide’s notes at the bottom of the window, while Presentations and Impress do not. There are many other differences among the three programs, so I could go on and on. But all the applications allow you to customize the interface to some degree, so you should be able to find a configuration that works for you.

Figure B
Presentations offers tool bars on the left side of the screen.

Figure C
Impress’ tool bars are also on the left side, while tabs at the bottom of the screen allow you to switch between slides.

Impress doesn’t
I found Sun’s StarOffice word-processing and spreadsheet components to be well-designed applications with few, if any, major flaws. This is in spite of the fact that StarOffice is still in beta. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Impress. A myriad of problems appeared during testing.

First, when I attempted to create a new presentation using the built-in wizards, none of the preview screens worked, which left me guessing what the final presentation would look like. What’s worse, as soon as I clicked the wizard’s Finish button, StarOffice crashed rather violently, requiring me to reboot my computer. Even worse, none of the other StarOffice components would start after this problem occurred.

Regrettably, Sun’s beta-download program ended December 31, and I no longer have the original distribution. This left me unable to reinstall the application and continue my evaluation. I only hope Sun can work out these bugs prior to Impress’ final release.

And then there were two
While their interfaces differ, Presentations and PowerPoint have very similar features and both do an excellent job. They both have very handy outline features (which, in my opinion, is one of the most useful aspects) that give you a quick overview of your presentation’s content.

With PowerPoint (Figure D), access to the outline is granted by clicking a tab immediately under the menu bar, while in Presentations, you click a tab to the right of the presentation. I much prefer PowerPoint’s outline display because it allows you to view the slide and outline side by side.

Figure D

Presentations (Figure E) displays the outline as a completely separate window. This means a lot of switching back and forth to see any changes.

Figure E

Presentations’ double-click dilemma
A critical factor when choosing any software package is how that product will affect end-user productivity. It’s good practice to always choose software that allows users to accomplish their work in the quickest, most efficient manner. When I evaluate software, I generally take that, as well as many other factors, into consideration. One minor annoyance that I have with Presentations is its insistence on double-clicking. Many users are accustomed to single clicking to move around a document, a la Word and Corel’s own WordPerfect. When switching to a different package, consistency in operation is important. With PowerPoint, the user can single-click on a heading or text box to make changes; however, the same action in Presentations requires a double-click.

PowerPoint wins on portability
Both Presentations and PowerPoint include features to write presentations across multiple floppy disks for portability. Both products also provide a separate viewer for their presentations, but Corel’s requires the use of a Web server—a major problem if users simply want to share a presentation. If users frequently share files with people outside the organization, PowerPoint is the hands-down winner, because it allows you to save files in a variety of formats. Presentations will not save files in a format readable by PowerPoint.

For me, PowerPoint is the clear choice…for now
In my previous word processor and spreadsheet reviews, I stated that choosing an application was more a matter of personal preference, budgetary guidelines, and organizational history than product functionality. Such is not the case with presentation software. If making a choice between one of the three packages, I would choose PowerPoint for its ease of use and portability. At present, Sun’s Impress seems too unstable for my tastes and Corel’s Presentations, while a quality product, lacks PowerPoint’s polish.

Your opinion counts

Which presentation product is your favorite and why? Has your organization recently switched office suites? If so, have your end users been satisfied? Does the new office suite generate more support calls than the old product? Post a comment to this article and share you opinion.