Presenting contents: Past Powerpoint and Keynote

Published by Michael Hartle on 2017-07-28
Tagged with Presentation Web Death by Powerpoint Prezi Sozi impress.js Hovercraft reveal.js

Want to present some content without resorting to Powerpoint or Keynote? There are some web-based solutions around, both commercial and open-source, that may help you to prevent a Death by Powerpoint.

TL;DR: Prezi, Sozi and impress.js allow for impressive slide transitions with rotation and zoom in the browser, yet are missing classic animation support out-of-the-box. In the end, it is about getting the content across, and reveal.js is suitable for that job.


I recently applied for a part-time interim professorship on Multimedia at the Darmstadt University of Applied Science, and received an invitation for a demo lecture and an interview. The actual topic of the demo lecture was new to me but related to my background, and preparing for the interview was not a major issue either. In the end, I obtained the position, yet what became more complex than originally intended was the question on how to appropriately present the contents, and prevent a Death by Powerpoint.



For actual presentation, I always had wanted something that looked so shiny as Prezi did to me then. Different from classic presentation tools, Prezi introduces global spatiality between slides, so that transitions between slides actually become a question of how to and where to move, rotate and zoom the camera, but also require you to actually consider your content globally, which you have to do anyway in order to take your audience along.

After registering for Prezi and using the default online web editor (not Prezi Next, mind), my enthusiasm faded. Rather than enabling me to work with the underlying first-level concepts that made Prezi so interesting in the first place, the editor felt something like a cross between an old slide-based editor and a heavily restricted mindmap editor. While I have an idea on how some of the more spectacular Prezi presentations may have been built with the editor, the tool was more a burden than a help in my eyes.


I then searched for existing open source tools regarding non-linear presentation, and stumbled about Sozi. Originally an extension to the Inkscape SVG editor, Sozi has long since switched to its own infrastructure, yet retains the idea of building the presentation upon an SVG document where you again move, rotate and zoom the camera onto the elements you would like to focus on. While I really liked the idea of open web technologies underneath, personally I found Sozi lacking regarding changes to the SVG document or even animation along the presentation; I strongly believe that using SVG, SVG Animation and proper integration for scripting makes for an attractive package that blows Prezi out of the water capabilities-wise.

Still, it is not all about getting the audience dizzy with camera transitions, but actually getting ideas and concepts across to the audience, and at least some minimal animation like fading in some bullet points is a must-have for me, even if it means to again leave without camera transitions.

impress.js, Hovercraft, ...

Disappointed with Prezi and Sozi, I discovered impress.js in combination with Hovercraft for quite simple authoring of slides and expressing their relative placement, allowing for automatic replacement of slides in their global layout. A nice, impressive setup, but again, I missed simple animation, which might well be added, but I did not want to start developing a solution as a precondition for working on my demo lecture.


I finally dismissed working on a presentation with global spatiality of slides, and just considered open web-based presentation frameworks that provide me with some means for animation support. In the end, I finally went with reveal.js for my demo lecture. No global spatiality, but an open web-based solution for slides and the availability of animations made my decision easy.


There are other frameworks such as bespoke.js with plugin support, so your mileage may vary. I still hope to see some serious open-source competition for Prezi with proper animation support based on open web technologies.

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