Testing out Google Presentations

I’ve never understood all the attention paid to Powerpoint, and the fuss over Google’s new online presentations tool was baffling. Who uses presentations? Well, apparently everybody but me and, it turns out, I’ll be using them a lot during my degree. I had to figure out how they work in order to talk for 10mins about Philippe Halsman last Friday.

I used Google Presentations for its convenience – I shuffle between a few places in the week, and it’s handy to edit from wherever I happen to be – but was very impressed overall. The interface is snappy and fairly free of annoyances. New slides are created quickly, and always appear after the currently selected slide – handy when you’ve over 30. They can also be drag-and-dropped into the correct order, rather than having to mess about with ‘move up/down’ buttons. The template system is initially a little confusing: when you create a new slide you’re given five basic layouts, which seems limiting. Actually all of these are completely editable, and are nothing more than a starting point. I used many images of different sizes, and GP was clever enough to resize them appropriately for online storage – I didn’t need to download 700k pictures during the presentation itself, but I couldn’t detect any drop in quality.

Actually presenting it worked ok – I used Firefox on a Mac, and there was no difference from my tests at home (although I didn’t know how to go full screen, unfortunately). All pages are pre-loaded, so there was no delay in moving to the next slide. GP automatically loaded the chat window for use with online presentations – people could connect and view remotely if they wanted – but thankfully it was easy to close. The only slight disadvantage is having to log into Google Docs and having your recent documents projected for all to see (I couldn’t care less, but I imagine this would bother some), although I realised afterwards that you can get around this by publishing the presentation and typing the URL directly. Alternatively it’s possible to export from GP into an HTML slideshow, and I had one of these on a USB stick in case the laptop had no internet connection – the only issue with this is the local javascript throwing security errors (IE7 whines).

I think it’s a decent system, but there were a few annoyances. It could do with an align option for blocks, as centering images on the page by eye is difficult. It’s also not currently possible to export in powerpoint format (.ppt files – but not .pptx – can only be imported), although this wasn’t a problem for me. The Printable view could do with some love, as my printer was happy to spread a single image across two pages – I think there should be a way to separate pages in CSS? My only other issue was being unable to check the order of slides from my mobile – I’d planned to write out my script on the train, but stupidly neglected to print out everything. Apparently there’s a mobile interface if you have an iPhone, but nothing for us plebs yet.

Most other people used Powerpoint and dropped the file onto a USB drive, which also worked well. I don’t have Powerpoint so can’t compare the two applications directly, but I didn’t find myself wishing for more features online, although admittedly I don’t know what I’m missing. Overall I’d recommend GP: it’s intuitive and, unlike other online office products, as fast as a desktop app. The convenience of being able to edit anywhere is, as ever, a killer feature.