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-- by Cheryl Dominianni
When you need to create a presentation, does the software included in your office suite pack enough punch, or are you considering a "suite" escape to a competing product? Two leading suites' presentation graphics components-Lotus Freelance Graphics 97 and Microsoft PowerPoint 97 -have been available since early this year, but we waited for the beta 3 release of Corel Presentations 8 (it should be available by the time you read this) to offer a comprehensive comparison. Improved ease of use, increased Internet capabilities, and augmented design and multimedia options are common enhancements to these applications. Some improvements come at a price: larger installation requirements (see chart); the need to run the CD to access clip art and an increase in recommended RAM to up to 16MB. But these costs don't seem unreasonable in light of the gratifying return on investment in the form of accessible features and professional-looking results.
Corel Presentations 8
While looking at Corel Presentations 8, we had to keep in mind that we were working with the beta 3 release. Most Scrapbook (clip art) files and multimedia effects weren't available, but other features were working well enough for a good overview. In addition, it's important to note that this program is sold only as part of Corel's WordPerfect 8 Suite.
Like its competitors, Presentations provides tools to assist occasional users. The PerfectExpert is always available on screen to offer context-sensitive assistance, including wizards to guide you through various tasks such as animating an object. Both a toolbar icon and the Help menu provide a direct link to the Web site, where Corel promises to have FAQs, tips and tricks, additional templates and multimedia clips available for download.
Corel expects Presentations 8 to have 28 content masters and 91 design masters (backgrounds) when it ships, but it was unclear at press time how many would be included in a typical installation. Beta 3 provided 23 content masters, including Budget Report, Business Plans and Teaching a Concept.
To create your own slides, you can access the Slide Properties view, which offers multiple options, including layout, background, transition, sound and speaker notes in a single location. Drawing tools are available from the Graphics Property Bar (property bars are context-sensitive toolbars found throughout the suite). The Scrapbook, when operational, will provide a free-floating window allowing access to installed clip art and additional art from the CD (Corel plans to offer a total of 12,000 images)
Creating our sample slide show wasn't difficult, but it was more time consuming than in PowerPoint or Freelance Graphics. We attribute this to the smaller number (seven) of default layout templates (PowerPoint offers 24, Freelance has 12). For example, Presentations doesn't provide a default layout for a bulleted list with clip art, one of the most commonly used slide formats. Creating your own layout isn't difficult-it just takes longer than using a template. In addition, you can't click on clip art to insert it. You have to drag and drop and then resize it once it's on the slide. Text animation isn't well designed, either. You can animate a bulleted list or inserted text, but you can't animate titles or subtitles. Nor can you insert a slide from another presentation.
Presentations 8 does include some special features that set it apart. Backgrounds are sophisticated and professional, offering multiple variations within the same color scheme, as well as some theme backgrounds. Custom Audience allows you to adapt existing shows to special audiences. Basic collaboration tools are provided, and animation and multimedia effects, often available directly from the property bar, are easy to assign and preview.
Output capabilities include the usual handout printing and slide preparation (a link to an online graphics company is one option). The program really excels in Internet support with its Internet Publisher feature. Choices include Publish to HTML for uploading your slide show (with sounds and links) to the Web, and Publish to Show It, which supports full animation, transitions, sound and video. Corel's Barista, a utility included in the suite, lets you publish your slide show in Java format, the only presentation package to do so.
To share your presentation with a non-Presentations user, you can convert it into a self-running slide show with Show on the Go. Both the file and the player are saved as one executable file.
Though lacking features found in the other two programs (e.g., title text animation, slide miniature views and Rehearsal mode), Presentations 8 promises strong multimedia capabilities, including a vast collection of clip art. Significantly, it's the only suite presentation component that currently supports Intel's MMX technology.
Lotus Freelance Graphics 97
Freelance Graphics continues to live up to its reputation for ease of use. The program's clean and uncluttered interface inspires confidence. As in the previous version, Guide Me is available with context-sensitive assistance and suggestions. The Internet Toolbar gives you direct access via your browser to the Lotus home page and customer support, but you won't find additional clip art or templates available for downloading.
With a typical installation, Freelance Graphics 97 offers 25 SmartMaster content templates and 40 different design styles. Content templates include Corporate Overview, Market Research, Market Strategy, Project Proposal and Training. The packaged templates will meet your typical needs, but it's also easy to create your own slides. Lotus Chart, shared across all Lotus SmartSuite 97 applications, makes charting easier by including a live preview in the Data Window, so you can see the effect of changes you make. Freelance includes tools to create your own drawings. Diagramming tools are excellent, with 100 ready-made diagrams you can modify as needed (neither competitor provides these)
Creating our test presentation was effortless and straightforward using Freelance, as it was with PowerPoint. Unfortunately, Freelance hasn't kept pace with the multimedia offerings of PowerPoint and Presentations. There are no photographs in the clip art gallery, and the animations we used took longer to play than those in either competitor. Furthermore, previewing clip art in Freelance is cumbersome, and its Web site offers no additional multimedia resources.
Freelance stumbles in other areas as well. You can't assign tasks and due dates while viewing the presentation, nor can you preview animations while assigning them-a serious shortcoming. Also, there's no feature equivalent to Custom Shows (PowerPoint) or Custom Audience (Presentations) to save time and disk space when creating similar presentations for different audiences.
Freelance does, however, provide numerous tools to simplify your work. While not new, the omnipresent InfoBox provides multiple formatting options in a single dialog box. The Outliner view provides a miniature of every slide next to the text and serves as a great editing option.
Collaboration tools in Freelance outshine those in the other programs. TeamReview uses the common mechanism of attaching notes to slides, and Quick Comments provides a fast way to respond without typing. Users can illustrate suggestions and comments using available drawing tools. Also, a slide's originator can choose to view only selected reviewers' remarks and can assign editing privileges to one individual, if desired, although any revisions made are permanent. More possibilities exist for Lotus Notes users, including the option of multiple reviewers collaborating simultaneously.
Freelance Graphics lets you print your own handouts or use the Setup for the 35mm slides option. Save and Go compresses both your presentation and a copy of the Freelance Mobile Screen Player (available from the Lotus home page), allowing you to send your presentation to another user. TeamShow, a network-based feature, lets you deliver Screen Show presentations to others in your network while privately creating or editing speaker notes. Save As World Wide Web Presentation converts your file to GIF format and then gives you the option of launching a browser to view it.
Microsoft PowerPoint 97
When we reviewed the beta version of PowerPoint 97 in November 1996, we pointed out several problems. Happily, with one exception (Custom Shows), these have been corrected in the latest version, making PowerPoint 97 our choice for the best all-around suite-based presentation graphics program.
We found PowerPoint 97 easier to use than its predecessors, with its new Office Assistant doing a great job of providing context-sensitive help. We were also impressed with the dazzling array of tools and resources, including PowerPoint Central, which provides a common location for tips, tricks, previews and links to additional resources on the Web.
PowerPoint 97's typical installation includes 31 content templates and 17 design templates, plus an AutoContent Wizard that suggests a starting template. The content templates, which include Company Meeting, Marketing Plan, Motivating a Team, Product Overview and Selling Your Ideas, provide suggestions about what to include in your presentation. If you need to create original graphics, PowerPoint provides a generous assortment of tools, including Graph 97 (a charting tool), OfficeArt (a graphics-enhancement tool) both available suite-wide.
Creating our test presentation in PowerPoint was simple and straightforward. The 24 default layout templates were easy to work with and met all our layout needs. Previewing and adding clip art and animations was a breeze. We'd like to see a "Play slide show starting here" option and a Go To command (both offered by the competition) for easier slide navigation.
Outline View now shows a miniature of the slide you're working on so you can see changes as you make them, and Slide Finder lets you add slides from other presentations. Custom Shows creates new presentations from existing slides for tailoring content to a specific audience. One caveat, however: As we pointed out in our beta review, Custom Shows provides no warning when you neglect to include a linked slide with the parent slide.
Tools for collaboration include Meeting Minder and Insert Comment. Meeting Minder, a feature neither competitor includes, allows you to take notes during a presentation and then create Action Items with assignments and due dates. These Action Items automatically appear as the last slide in the presentation and can be linked to Outlook to send as e-mail. Insert Comment, used for co-authoring, is perhaps the weakest aspect of PowerPoint 97. The originator sends the draft presentation to co-workers for review; their comments and names appear as notes, but they can't edit the slides.
PowerPoint 97 offers numerous output possibilities. You can print handouts or link to a third-party Web site to order 35mm slides for next-day delivery. Pack and Go assembles and compresses your presentation and supporting documents, saving it to your floppy, hard drive or network. If you want to show two versions of the same presentation (one with speaker notes, a list of slide titles and timings displayed), you can use two computers and a direct cable connection.
Another output option is using the HTML Wizard to export your presentation as a Web document. If you want sound and animation included, you can save the file as a PowerPoint animation. You can then share the presentation through a browser with non-PowerPoint users (they need only download the PowerPoint Animation Player from the Microsoft Web site)
It's a Wrap
All three suite developers, Corel, Lotus and Microsoft, have created presentation graphics programs that are easy to use and offer ongoing assistance. This is welcome news to novices asked to create a presentation "by tomorrow." Because of its ease of use and ample resources (including Web enhancements), we judge PowerPoint 97 as the best all-around program. Freelance Graphics 97 has some catching up to do in the multimedia area, but will be the program of choice for team projects because of its collaboration tools. The Presentations 8 beta hasn't mastered all of the slide-creation tools yet, but it promises to be a market contender, offering strong Internet capabilities, Web enhancements and professional-looking slide design masters.
Windows Magazine, August 1997, page 141.
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