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  • beside PowerPoint

    January 5th, 2008 by myrta

    PowerPoint is symptomatic of a certain type of bureaucratic environment: one typified by interminable presentations with lots of fussy bullet-points and flashy dissolves and soundtracks masked into the background, to try to convince the audience that the goon behind the computer has something significant to say. It’s the tool of choice for pointy-headed idiots with expensive suit and skinny laptops who desperately want to look as if they’re in command of the job, with all the facts at their fiddling fingertips, even if Rome is burning in the background. Nothing stands for content-free corporate bullshit quite like PowerPoint. And that’s just scratching the surface…

    In this excerpt of “The Jennifer Morgue” by Charles Stross, Bob Howard — the main character — expresses his strong dislike for MS PowerPoint. To fully understand his reasons my advice is to read the book (really!), on the other hand it is a long time I have wanted to write something on this subject and reading these words finally convinced me.
    I share with Bob Howard the dislike for PowerPoint. The first reason and probably the most important, is that I am a Linux user, so MS products are simply off. A second reason is the portability. Showing a PowerPoint presentation on a different computer is always a bet. Of course one can convert the presentation in PDF, but for that I think there exist better programs. A third reason is that including formulas in PowerPoint is extremely tedious. A fourth is that, as remarked in this excerpt, PowerPoint instigates one to an unrestrained use of special effects.
    Here below, I listed some alternatives to PP directed especially to Linux users.
    A quite obvious alternative, is the presentation component of the OpenOffice suite. The advantage with respect to PP is that it is free, and open source (for those who care), while for what regards the features and the general philosophy it follows PP quite closely. It has a tool for formulas, but it still can be quite tedious work to fill them in, and the conversion to PDF is not always convincing. For LaTeX users, the best option may be to use LaTeX itself. The beamer package is becoming indeed quite popular among physicists. Besides the fact that you can re-use material from your LaTeX articles and notes, you can create directly a PDF document. Another TeX based alternative is the ConTeXt macropackage. I find it more flexible than Beamer-LaTeX for what regards the layout. On the other hand, it is TeX based, but it isn’t LaTeX, so you may loose some time in converting commands from one language to the other. Many may be skeptical on the results of a TeX-made presentation. In my experience I have seen very nice presentations made with both tools here mentioned. Sometimes it can be a fight to put all information you want on a slide, but it forces you to think what information are really essential, and how much information can really go in one slide. For those that yet prefer a WhatYouSeeIsWhatYouGet option, the open source desktop publisher Scribus may be a solution. Being a publisher, the concept is very different from PowerPoint, and it is more intuitive and easier to personalize than (La/Con)TeX. It outputs a PDF; the conversion was not that good in the first versions, but it has been quite improved in the latest. Again if you have formulas it may be not the best choice. As last option, those who want to give a very graphical presentation may try Inkscape. It is really not a presentation tool. In particular you cannot save you presentation as a single file, but you will have a file for each slide. What then? You have two possibilities. First, you can save each slide as a PDF and put them together using PdfTk. Second, you can use Inkview, the svg viewer distributed together with Inkscape. The latter possibility is the best of the two, since it does not require the conversion to PDF (some Inkscape features, like gaussian blur, cannot be converted) and the merging with PdfTk. On the other hand Inkview is not (yet) very popular, so if you are obliged to use another computer, probably you would need to pass through the PDF conversion and merging. A nice feature of the latest Inkscape release is that you can import LaTeX (there are two different plugins) so that you can re-use formulas from your LaTeX articles.

    To finish, I concentrated on the several tools to set up a presentation. Of course as tools they are not bad or good a priori. Also PowerPoint can be used in a different way from the one described by Charles Stross. In particular in making my presentation, whatever the tool, I have found very useful the advices on slide design by Michael Alley. It really helps to make your presentation effective, by forcing you for each slide to write its main message as slide title, and to find a good graphics to demonstrate it. In this way there is no risk of needless slides or of your presentation being a long list of long bullet-lists that nobody is going to remember.

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