Presentation tools

Tuesday 18 November 2008

I’ve had presentations on my mind lately, and that has caused me to search out a good tool for doing them. I have a Windows laptop, so PowerPoint is always an option, but I wanted to try other alternatives first. Unfortunately, I found them all lacking.

I want a way to author and show slides, and then a way to export them for use in a web page. I’ve got a goal of putting the presentations online not just as a deck of images, but as a text transcript, illustrated with slides. I’ve never been able to watch other people’s presentations online because I don’t have the patience to watch an hour-long video in real time, and a slide deck with none of the actual talk behind it is pretty spare.

S5 (A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System) is all HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, runs in the browser, and was created by Eric Meyer, a very nice pedigree. Remarkably, the thing I like least about it is that when I display the slides in a full-screen Firefox, they look horrible. The text is either too small or too large, and the line-spacing too tight, while the slide title overlaps the text in the wrong way, exposing some of the structure of the divs.

I would have hoped that a CSS-based slideshow by the king of CSS would be a shining example of how information could be cleanly authored and then sparklingly displayed. S5 seems to miss this mark, especially since there don’t seem to be many themes available for it, another surprise given how CSS should have made it accessible to lots of designers. Also, although (or perhaps because) the format is native to the web, it’s not possible to get the slides as illustrations.

I tried OpenOffice Impress, and was initially impressed. It’s got a lot of presentation features, notably all sorts of animations. When I started using it, though, I ran into some problems: there’s no way to create a text style, so any code samples have to be tediously formatted by hand. Although there are tons of slide animations, a bullet list that reveals one bullet at a time is not among them. I briefly considered the scripting capability, but it seems arcane and under-documented.

Also, I have to say that OpenOffice’s themes are cheesy, and though I found one that looked good, when I installed it, it didn’t work.

I briefly tried 280 Slides again, and it is very impressive, but too slow to run in my browser.

So I may be using PowerPoint...


Get a Mac. Use Keynote.
as Alex suggested, try latex/pdftex and beamer. you can convert it in a lot of format.
A few years back when I spent a two year stint teaching CS I used the prosper package for LaTeX with good success. Look here for info
I have read a few times about Bruce (Richard Jones). I have never tried it though.
trying to access

Not Found

The requested URL / was not found on this server.
ok, found the correct link, thanks :)
Why not just edit the CSS in S5? The problems you've described are trivially fixed, and S5 barely has any code at all.
"when I display the slides in a full-screen Firefox, they look horrible."

You might want to reload the presentation after switching into fullscreen. This usually fixes all display flaws.

And I found S5 presentations to be remarkably separative about contents and layout. If you disable Javascript, you notice nothing of the slideshow at all. It's just a plain document you can skim easily.
I've been pretty happy with exporting reStructuredText to S5 with Docutils in the past. :-)
(Unfortunately, you're right about the lack of themes. I guess it's just too unpopular.)
Every time I see someone start up an S5 presentation, I cringe a little, because without fail there is always some issue with code or text appearing incorrectly when presented at a different screen resolution than it was originally written on, or the presenter stumbling when they accidentally jump forward by a few slides thanks to a stray click or text highlight. It's a noble idea, but in practice it just hurts.

I will second the vote for Keynote--it's been a long time since any piece of software has made me so happy to use.
Hi Ned,

Check out this nifty terminal-based presentation tool that one of the launchpad developers wrote:

It takes a text file with a series of short sentences, and displays in the terminal one slide for each section of text. Uses low-level terminal access, so likely only works on linux for now.

HTML plus live Python - what could be better?
I find that the presentation tools I use shape the kinds of presentations I give. I love giving presentations with Piro's delightful little Takahashi XUL app just because it guides me into a fun style.

BTW, here's a working link to the Firefox-only English "translation",page2

And an up-to-date link to Piro's site:
(Continuned in a new comment, so I don't have 5 links and therefore look like a spammer...)


And a more helpful English version

The tool meets your goal of being able to have an online slide deck, provided everyone who will read your presentation has Firefox installed. Even so, it's bags of fun to play with.
Steve Holden mentioned Crunchy. Right now, if I read correctly your post, it would not quite do what you want ... without a bit of extra work. I believe you could do most of what you want by using two sets css classes and using a browser's capacity to select a different css style - one for slides and one for normal "article" style.

This (in a different form) is related to issue 185

If you are interested in investigating the use of Crunchy as a presentation tool, feel free to email me.
Ned, if you are interested in using docutils, I've written the start of a toolset to covert rst files to impress. (Much like rst2s5). Have used s5 in the past, but it's leaving me with itches to scratch. Still needs a little love, but the proof of concept is there. When I get a little time I plan on fixing it. There will be pygments (code highlighting) too. I haven't messed with the bullet revealing functionality you mention but it should be pretty easy too. You can also mark text as handout only. Then you can convert it to odp and make any changes you want/like or export to pdf/powerpoint/html....

There are definite benefits to using an open standard (odp). But I won't get into those here. Email me if you are interested.

Ouch - sounds like your knitting yourself an open-source hair shirt there.

Get a mac. Use keynote. Its wonderful. No, really.

---* Bill
OO Impress is just nowhere near as good as ppt, though it pains me to say it. OO 3.0 hasn't fixed it either.
I ran into some problems: there's no way to create a text style, so any code samples have to be tediously formatted by hand.

I managed to create a style for code no keyword highlighting however:) ). Using Impress OOo2.4 on Ubuntu Hardy I:
pasted code into a text box
selected the text, formatted it as monospaced.
clicked on the text box surround to select that, 
RMClick chose "Line...", chose a line style & width
RMClick chose "Area...", chose  a "Fill" of "Blue 8" to give it a background
With the text box still selected I selected the "New Style From Selection" icon from the Styles & Formatting window (F11) & called it "Code"
I could apply this to newly created text boxes to my heart's content.

If you want more OOO tips:
I've used S5 for some presentations, but you really need to use a decent browser, not Internet Explorer (although this is more a general note, not one for Ned). In one case, where only IE was available, I anticipated the situation and actually took window-grabs of my presentation in Firefox (easy using KDE's screenshot support) and then presented the images using the seemingly archaic, but actually useful, Microsoft Fax and Image Viewer (or whatever it's called). One thing to remember with S5 is that after resizing the browser window or going full-screen, it's probably best to reload the file - the JavaScript would come up with more optimal results recalculating the dimensions from scratch.

As for using a Mac plus Keynote, probably 90% of all technical issues with setting up presentations that I've seen in the last couple of years have involved Macs, Keynote and the audience getting to see the "Steve Jobs" view of the presentation (with the timer and other bits), lots of messing around with the monitor setup (sometimes in languages other than the one the presenter is familiar with), before finally and belatedly getting to see the presentation as intended. If I were coordinating presenters at an event, I'd make the Mac users do a "penalty lap" and have them check more than just the screen resolution.

On a final, more constructive note, I've heard various things about Slidy, but it wasn't as portable as S5 when I last looked:
My hairshirt is released to the wild! [0] Beware haters!

BTW the nice little OOo impress template you link to does appear to be broken and not really a template. Perhaps when I get styles (templates) flushed out on my hairshirt, I'll make one similar to the linked one.


0 -
I've been looking for a system which allows you to author presentations structurally instead of graphically.

However, I also want its default presentation behaviour not to embarass me in front of the boss! Text shouldn't go off the page, and the second line of a paragraph shouldn't wrap in weird ways.

I suspect these two ambitions are in direct contradiction with each other since the WYSIWYG editing interface which forces you into a proprietary kludge format is exactly the thing which ensures your bullets stay on the screen. By contrast if you define the thing in a nice minimal structural way, you find out that your essay in bullet point two makes everything else invisible.

I'm still struggling with finding something really satisfactory even just for nice presentation layout.

In my ideal world the tool would allow you to flex the presentation more or less infinitely if you can be bothered to author the graphical behaviours, and for this I messed around with Processing and Pyglet for a bit as you can see here...

I was hoping to continue working on the pyglet version except its media support through Avbin seems to have entirely stopped working since switching from Mac making it hard to build the rich presentations I want. Shame. I'll get back to hacking that one day.

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