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PowerPoint Alternatives: Presentation-Tool Showdown

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Creating a presentation using Prezi is a matter of arranging and connecting text, images, and videos to tell a story.
Working on the premise that presentations haven't changed enough in the 50 or so years since the slide was first invented, Prezi takes a radically different approach. Rather than structuring presentations as a linear sequence of slides, it treats them as a unified whole that you can zoom in and out of at will.

To begin, you place ideas, images, and videos on a blank "canvas" in a way that naturally tells your story. Next, you connect these elements by creating a deliberate, linear path that designates the order in which the elements will appear during your presentation. You can zoom in the focus of the presentation to explain a detail, or zoom it out to emphasize the big picture. Due to the completely different paradigm it uses, however, Prezi can't import or export files from other presentation packages.

A free version permits online-only presentation creation. That edition comes with 100MB of storage but adds a small Prezi watermark to the resulting presentations, which are included on the site's public exploration area. A version with 2000MB of storage and additional privacy, branding, and offline capabilities costs $159 per year.

Prezi Desktop software is available for PC, Mac, and Linux users with paid accounts, offering a way to create and save zooming presentations offline. With Prezi Meeting, meanwhile, as many as ten people can access and edit presentations. A Prezi app for the iPad is also available.

Hands-on: For anyone accustomed to traditional presentation software, working with Prezi takes some mental reprogramming. We had a lot of fun playing around with the service, but we soon realized that it was going to be very difficult to compare with our other contenders.

Much as the vast emptiness of a blank word processing screen can paralyze writers, the initial emptiness of the Prezi canvas felt intimidating at first. The absence of the enforced linear sequence also meant that we had to think a little more purposefully about what kinds of elements should be included, and where. In many ways, Prezi feels more like mind-mapping software than a presentation tool.

Prezi’s interface gives you an overview of the presentations you’ve created.
Prezi is an exciting and powerful tool for people seeking freedom from the restraints that traditional presentation software imposes, and for whom compatibility and exchange with PowerPoint or other tools isn't necessary. If you prefer an imposed linear structure or need compatibility with existing formats, however, you may prefer a more traditional route.

Price: Free for 100MB of storage and the ability to create, share, show, and download presentations; $59 per year for 500MB of storage and additional privacy and branding capabilities; $159 per year for 2000MB of storage and additional offline capabilities

Languages: English

License: Proprietary

Import/export: None

Unique features:

  • Zooming model allows nonlinear presentations
  • Capability to focus in and out on different levels of information
  • iPad application
  • Desktop software enables offline capabilities for paying users
  • Prezi Meeting for collaboration
  • Fun to use

Missing pieces:

  • Familiarity: Absence of an enforced, slide-based structure makes using Prezi feel very different
  • Import/export capabilities with other presentation tools
  • Support for multiple languages
  • Metrics and analytics

Best use for Prezi: Representing an exciting new paradigm for creating presentations, Prezi in many ways seems a lot more logical than the linear structure that most applications enforce today. It's certainly a good choice if you're a free thinker frustrated with the linear format in other software, as well as if exchanging traditional presentation files with other people isn't a concern. If you give it a try, the results can be intriguing.

Next page: A feature-packed option with many themes and platform options

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