Alternatives to Big-Name Tech Tools

PowerPoint Alternatives: Presentation-Tool Showdown

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Microsoft PowerPoint 2010
PowerPoint has long set the standard in presentation software, ubiquitous as it is through Microsoft's Office productivity suite. Numerous alternatives have emerged in recent years, however, many of them priced far below the $280 cost of Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Business--or even free.

We've zeroed in on five of the most compelling online alternatives to Microsoft PowerPoint, and held them up together to compare features and examine compatibility. If you're in the market for a new presentation maker, you'd be wise to keep your wallet in your pocket until you've read what we found.

Google Docs Presentations

Since Google Docs is arguably the most commonly used name in cloud-based office software, let's start there. Users of the free service can import existing presentations or create new ones from scratch and then access, edit, and share them from anywhere using just a Web browser.

Google Docs is well known for its excellent sharing and collaboration capabilities, which include simultaneous editing by up to 10 people and sharing with as many as 200 people. You can publish presentations to a unique URL or embed them in a Website (including in LinkedIn profiles). Although you can't edit the presentations on a smartphone, you can view them on a mobile OS that supports HTML.

Export capabilities include PowerPoint, PDF, and text formats, though not all characteristics will be preserved. Presentations you create in Google Docs can be up to 10MB, or about 200 slides in size.

For businesses, Google Presentations is part of the paid Google Apps service, which includes Gmail, Google Calendar, and more.

Hands-on: Google Presentations has a fairly basic, spartan interface, and you must first select and convert presentations imported from elsewhere. When we imported a PowerPoint presentation, transitions weren't preserved but everything else seemed to make the move intact.

A fairly limited selection of themes and backgrounds is available for presentations, but the Google Docs Templates Gallery makes up for that somewhat with a variety of user-created options. One nice touch is that when you indicate that you'd like to insert a video, Google Docs automatically presents a list of options from YouTube featuring keywords similar to those on the slide you're working on. You can then preview those options by clicking on them.

A more rudimentary interface is a hallmark of Google Docs, including its presentation component.
Most options on Google Docs feel pretty basic but solid. Google Docs offers no support for transitions, which is too bad, though it does have an option for incrementally revealing text and objects. Audio files are not accepted. We also aren't crazy about the fact that even in full-screen mode, presentations don't actually play full-screen; a toolbar remains at the bottom.

Price: Free, or $50 per user per year as part of Google Apps for businesses

Languages: Many

License: Proprietary

Import/export: Import from PowerPoint, export to PDF and PowerPoint

Unique features:

  • Good for collaboration and sharing
  • Widely used
  • Integrates with other Google tools, including Picasa and YouTube
  • Mobile viewing
  • Support for multiple languages

Missing pieces:

  • Competing offerings have more interface niceties
  • Support for audio
  • Support for transitions
  • Offline presentation access
  • Metrics and analytics

Best use for Google Docs: Frequent travelers and groups working together will appreciate the great collaboration capabilities in Google Docs, but its presentation functionality is fairly limited. We'd recommend it for those who do not make heavy use of presentations, and who don't need elaborate features.

Next page: A presentation tool that doesn't use slides

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