It’s Presentation Time: You Ready?
Presentation graphics software has evolved to the stage where even a computer novice can create an effective and artistic presentation in a few hours. These programs offer an extensive lineup of charts, tables, text effects, colors, clip art, graphics, and slide transition effects. The presentations they help you to produce can be printed, converted to 35mm slides and overhead transparencies, are run directly from a PC.
A quick ramp-up time is essential to the success of any presentation product, as the typical person who uses such software is usually a first-time buyer looking to perform an overnight miracle. Even those who are familiar with such packages often use them infrequently: Unlike your word processor or spreadsheet, presentation software is not something you use every day, so getting up to speed quickly is to success. Consequently, these programs are designed to be straightforward and inviting. They offer outlines and templates, consistent background opinions for charts and graphs, and thumbnail views of your presentation. Tutorials and advisers supply detailed information about each step of the process, speeding you through seemingly complicated tasks.
For this review, we’ll look at three major players in the windows-based presentation graphics arena: Lotus Freelance Graphics for Windows 2.01, Harvard Graphics 2.0 for Windows, and Microsoft Power Point for Windows 3.0. PowerPoint with its roots on the Macintosh platform-virtually defined the desktop presentation marked and is one of the most popular presentation software packages available. But Freelance Graphics and Harvard Graphics are serious challengers for the lead in the Windows marketplace, combining the best features of the aging PowerPoint with their own advancements in charting facilities and online tutorials. Both Freelance Graphics and PowerPoint list for $495, whereas Harvard Graphics is listed at $395.
In order to help you determine which package best suits your needs, we evaluated each in the six areas that typify the steps involved in the process of creating a presentation: file importing; slide creation and effects; text, graphs, and tables; drawing capabilities; interface, help, tutorials, and support; and output opinions.
If you are new to presentations, you might think it’s difficult to come up with an impressive slide show. Not so. With desktop presentation graphics packages, it’s simply a matter of filling in the blanks: You enter the material for each slide (by importing a word processing outline or typing directly in a text box); add, delete, or move slides to get your material into the proper presentation order; and press an icon or select an item on the menu to run your slide show.
Importing text and spreadsheet data into each package was a relatively simple procedure (for our evaluation, we used Word for Windows 2.0, Excel 4.0, and Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows, release 4). Harvard Graphics imported text only in ASCII format, but had no problem with Excel’s XLS or 1-2-3’s WK* file formats; Freelance Graphics imported word processing and spreadsheet files with ease and offered a great deal of flexibility in its dialog boxes, providing more predefined file types; PowerPoint, however, did require a few extra steps to format the imported data-particularly spreadsheet files-which are imported directly into the program’s Graph module.
SLIDE CREATION AND EFFECTS
You will also want your slides to be eyecatching, so a wide variety of slide design options is crucial. All three packages have slide masters that let you apply one consistent interface-with color scales and ornaments like boxes, lines, countries, landscapes–to all or a selected number of slides.
Freelance Graphics and Harvard Graphics provide you with an automatic dialog box each time you add a slide; this dialog box asks you to select the type of slide you want to create (title page, chart, bulleted text, chart with bullets, table, custom, and so forth). Next, the dialog box places a toolbox or boxes onto the slide, from which you can select the tools you need to build your items, such as a data sheet for creating a graph. All let you view slides individually, simultaneously, or in outline form.
As we’ve come to a long way from merely advancing to the next slide, look to add some fancy transition effects between slides. These effects include screen wipes–such as sweeping one slide up to the left and the next slide in from the right–and horizontal or vertical splits. Slides can be separated by theatrical curtains that open and close, or they can dissolve into checkerboard or rainlike fades. During presentation, you can manually advance to the next slide by clicking the mouse or automatically by predetermining a time limit of, say, 30 seconds between slides. Automatic slide advancement frees you to attend to your notes and also helps to maintain the pace of your presentation. Additionally, an automatic build feature in each package lets bulleted text appear on consecutive slides. With each slide, a new bulleted item gets added and the previously bulleted points appear dimmed.
TEXT, GRAPHS, AND TABLES
Text manipulation in Freelance Graphics, Harvard Graphics, and PowerPoint is a breeze. All three programs come with spell-checkers and a speaker’s note option that lets you add reminders to each slide. TrueType and PostScrip font support as well as color text options in eact let you design text effects that will have your messages leaping off the screen.
Expect the standard set of graphs: area, bar, column, pie, high-low-open-close, scatter, and stacked bar charts. Freelance Graphics and Harvard Graphics also have organizational charts, and Freelance adds radar charts that let you compare individual datum to group results. PowerPoint has no organizational charting facility.
You can also create combination charts. All graphs are created through a data-entry form–essentially an elementary spreadsheet–on which graphs are based. All three let you import data when you’re in graphing mode, but Freelance and PowerPoint provide the most detailed previews in that mode.
The drawing tools available include the basic line, circle, and polygon options. Manipulation of these tools is especially good in Freelance Graphics and Harvard Graphics, but PowerPoint carries extra shapes on its tool palette, such as trapezoids and stars. If your first attempts at drawing an object fall short of your expectations, don’t worry. Freelance has 10 levels of undo (that is, you can undo up to the last 10 actions). Harvard has four levels of undo, and PowerPoint has one. Harvard is the only one with a redo option. Each package also includes more than 525 different pieces of high-quality clip art, with subjects like business, environment, industry, animals, and international symbols. All the clip-art libraries allow you to browse through thumbnail and full-size views of images that can be resized and added to slides. Powerpoint’s clip-art libraries are actually PowerPoint presentations themselves.
INTERFACE, HEP, TUTORIALS, AND SUPPORT
Each of these three Windows-based packages has an intuitive interface. They provide a drawing and charting palette as well as icons and pull-down menus for basic slide functions, such as running slide shows, creating new slides, and changing views.
Freeland Graphics and Harvard Graphics both sport online tutorials, which makes creating that first presentation a real snap. PowerPoint’s tutorial, however, is the documentation. Both Freeland and Harvard have toolbar item descriptions: With Freeland Graphics, you place the cursor over an item and click the right mouse button to bring up the item’s description; with Harvard Graphics, you simply place the mouse cursor over the item and a description appears. PowerPoint, on the other hand, suffers from a lack of online tutorial and toolbar descriptions.
Harvard Graphics wins the usability battle with its online, hideable Advisor, which supplies detailed advice for each step of your work. The advice includes both how-to tips and presentation design techniques. It even tells you what charts are appropriate for specific types of data. Freelance Graphics also has online, context-sensitive help for each step of your work, though it is not as extensive as that in Harvard Graphics.
As simple as these packages are to master, you may occassionally find yourself in need of more help than the tutorials and documentation provide. Lotus offers unlimited toll-free support of Freelance Graphics for 90 days after the first call, then you have a choice of either 800-number support for $129 per year, or 900-number support at $2 per minute. Software Publishing Corp. provides unlimited support for Harvard Graphics. The Harvard Graphics Advisor Service also offers advice on building a presentation. Microsoft provides unlimited support (not toll free) and a FastTips advisory service with prerecorded PowerPoint presentation tips. Microsoft also has something truly unique among the
packages we reviewed: a 90-day money-back guarantee.
Slid shows can be printed or sent to a service bureau to be made into 35mm slides or overhead transparencies. Freelance Graphics and Harvard Graphics provide utilities to prepare your work for the Autographix slide service center. PowerPoint includes a utility for the Genigraphics slide service.
You should always print a hard copy of your presentation even if you’re planning to produce transparencies, 35mm slides, or a screen show. With a printout, you can perform the final manual proof-reading of the spelling and grammar in your text and slide headings. While all the reviewed packages include spell-checkers, it is always a smart idea to do the final check by hand. You might also consider asking a friend–one who was not involved in the creation of the presentation to proofread your printout. Also, if you plan to provide audience handouts, be sure to print in landscape mode–the human eye can cover a horizontal area faster than a vertical one.
The special power in these packages is the ability to run a slide show from a PC. All three allow you to incorporate both sound (WAV) and video (AVI) clips into a presentation. You can also use a run-time module supplied by all three. Run-time modules let you run presentations on any PC without having to install the package.
YOUR BEST BUY?
All told, any one of these packages constitutes a ready answer to your presentation demands, but Harvard Graphics and Freelance Graphics both stand out as the tools of choice for their power and ease of use. If you use Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows, Ami Pro, or other Windows-based Lotus programs, you’ll find that Freelance Graphics is the best choice for moving items from one Lotus application to another. In fact, the default toolbar in Freelance includes launching tools for Ami Pro and Lotus Notes.
On the other hand, Harvard Graphics is the wisest choice for people who like having the best online help and design tips they can get. Between the two products, Harvard Graphics slightly wins out for its advanced, fool-proof interface.
PowerPoint 3.0 remains a popular choice among professionals primarily for its cross-platform file compatibility on both Windows and Mac, as well as for its excellent presentation outliner and tool palettes. The program is feature rich, although somewhat spartan in its external appearance. It’s beginning to show its age, however, and suffers from a lack of any online tutorials and toolbar descriptions as well as a lack of any organizational charting facilities.
These packages not only simplify presentation making, they enable you to create the materials you need to communicate your points clearly. Of course, if you have more time, you can spend hours tweaking the details of each page of your slide show. Chances are good that you’ll wind up making presentations a regular part of your business, a part you’re bound to enjoy because of the impressive tools at your fingertips.