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-- by James E. Powell
Here's a presentation program that lives up to its name: ActivePresenter 1.0 lets you conduct real-time slide shows on the Web with a unique level of control. The beta version we tested provides slick tools, intelligent formatting and the ease of use found in its sibling, Software Publishing's ASAP WordPower 1.95 (see WinLab Reviews, March 1996). However, ActivePresenter lacks some of the sophisticated multimedia and animation effects-such as sound clips and bulleted fly-in text-offered by Microsoft PowerPoint 97 (see WinLab Reviews, this issue)
When we created our presentation, ActivePresenter allowed us to format a variety of slides, from bulleted lists to multicolumn lists. The program also has a uniquely advanced design sense. For example, if you choose a pyramid template, the pyramid will automatically resize and the font sizes adjust as you add items.
When we finished designing our presentation, we chose the Publish option to prepare it for the Web. Assisted by the WebShow Publisher Wizard, we entered some basic information about our show, such as its title, date and time, and the moderator's name and phone number. The program posts this data in the Presentation Center, a page on your Web server that lists all available presentations. The wizard also asks you to specify the URL of the Presentation Center, designate a password so viewers can access your presentation and select one of several border color combinations.
You are able to package a presentation in two formats. On Demand allows your viewers to see a slide show at any time. Live format puts you into the act as a live moderator. In the On Demand mode, the individuals in your audience use a Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer browser with the appropriate plug-in to scroll through a presentation at their own pace. This option is well suited for product or company overviews with a permanent spot on your site. PowerPoint 97 uses the same model.
The Live option is best when you want to combine a slide show with a live teleconference. It's an approach unique to ActivePresenter. When audience members reach the designated URL, they will see only the first slide. As the moderator, you use WebShow Publisher and your own Internet connection to navigate among slides (forward, backward or to any slide); you speak to your audience using a conventional telephone conference call. The viewer does nothing-as you move through your slides, each audience member's screen is refreshed automatically. Viewers can't jump ahead, so attention stays focused. Your audience can switch between small-window and full-screen views.
WebShow Publisher displays the moderator's presentation in a window with two buttons at the top. Click on the Begin button to start the show or the Participants button to see who's joined the session. ActivePresenter is priced by the number of simultaneous participants the software supports. The program comes in three-, nine- and 25-member packages; a special 25+ edition is also available.
Navigation buttons that can summon any slide appear at the bottom of the moderator's window. We were impressed with the speed with which our audience saw slides change: less than 4 seconds using 28.8Kb per second modems.
After the live show, or for any on-demand show, WebShow Publisher can remove a presentation from the Web. You can also edit and repost it.
We tested the program using a Software Publishing-hosted site; a 30-day trial is free. You can host an ActivePresenter show from any site that supports ftp-including your personal Web page from a local ISP-without special server-side software. WebShow Publisher uploads the presentation via ftp to the specified site. Our 12-screen test took less than 1 minute before we were ready to go.
ActivePresenter's slide shows lack PowerPoint's animation and multimedia support, but its screen designs are far more visually appealing than PowerPoint's. In addition, ActivePresenter's Live moderator mode offers presentation control that PowerPoint can't match. We've seen nothing that comes close to ActivePresenter for easy, high-quality Web presentations, which is why we recommend that it join PowerPoint on our WinList. If you are already using PowerPoint, ActivePresenter is a good companion to help you get your presentation up and running-and looking good-on the Web.