If you need to create a quick presentation for work, church, or school, chances are most people will grab their copy of Powerpoint and get to work. Of course, not everyone has Powerpoint, and even if it’s installed, there are times when the power and complexity are just too much. Sometimes it’s nice to use someone else’s pre-made template, filling in your own pictures and text, and be done with it. For those people, Adobe has – for the past year or so – made available Acrobat.com Presentations, part of their online document storage/tools/production package.
Using Presentations is quite simple. If you’ve ever used any of Adobe’s other online applications such as Buzzword, their browser-based word processor, or the image manipulation package located at Photoshop.com, then you already have an Adobe ID. This lets you use Buzzword, Presentations, or Adobe’s other current Labs project, Tables (their basic spreadsheet program, which along with Presentations is still in beta). In case that didn’t quite hit you the first time, I’ll be a little more clear. While everyone has been wondering whether Google or Microsoft was going to win the online office suite “war,” Adobe has quietly assembled a really good word processor, and is working on presentations and spreadsheets. It sounds to me as if Adobe isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel on this front quite yet!
But back to Presentations. It is really simple to use. When you create a new presentation from the main Acrobat.com menu, you’re asked to select a theme. Just like other programs, these themes typically include more than just one page style, but have different slide templates available for different types of information. Once you’ve selected your theme, adding images and typing in your text is really simple. What’s nice is that Presentations gives you a lot of handy tools, such as image manipulation, text effects, slide transitions, lists and shapes, but presents them in a very simple-to-use manner. You can also tweak each theme with different color sets. By changing color sets, you keep the same basic attributes of a theme (for instance, a textured background with two photos and a large header), but all the colors change as a group, so instead of you having to go through and change every text color to match your new background choice, the program switches everything for you (although you can make choices on an individual basis if you want).
After using Presentations for probably 10-15 minutes, I came to the realization that I was viewing it as I would an Apple product. It looks gorgeous, is very stylish, and most definitely strives for simplicity of use. It has a lot of power, however, it’s just that it’s kind of hidden by how simple everything feels. For instance, getting all the same effects, if you had to create them from scratch, would take a good bit of patience and knowledge about the program you were using. With Presentations, getting these same effects is akin to using a macro, or a “recipe” in Photoshop. You don’t really need to know exactly what’s going on to produce the effect that you like; the important thing is that you get the result you want.
One of the really nice things about Presentations is the interface. Because it’s designed to be used in a web browser, it would be really inefficient if Presentations had the same type of toolbars most programs like Powerpoint do. If you added that to the existing browser toolbar, you wouldn’t have a lot of room left for your presentation content! So Presentations (as does Buzzword and Tables), uses a sliding tabs kind of idea. When you start Presentations, you see a little icon just above and to the left of your presentation, with the word “Design” to the right of it. There are then tools such as color sets, transitions and themes for you to choose from. Located to the far right you see four more little icons. Hovering over those slides them a little to the left, revealing what type of tools are hidden underneath: Slide tools, Text tools, List tools and Shape tools. Clicking on the icon slides the whole thing all the way to the left, covering over the Design toolbar and giving you access to the new set of tools. It’s a little like tabs, in that you can only see one set of tools at once, or Microsoft’s Ribbon. I like it.
Presentations also allows you to share your work with others, and even lets you work on it at the same time. When you’re finished working, you can play your slideshow right in your browser to see if everything is as you want it, and if you plan on sharing it with others for viewing, you can publish it to the web (stored on Adobe’s Acrobat.com servers), for anyone with the URL to view.
In all honesty, the only place where I feel Presentations is currently lacking is in your ability to save your work to your hard drive. While it’s nice to be able to present your work on the web, it’s also nice to save it to a flash drive or simply to your desktop, in case you need to present your work in a place without Internet. And this is where Presentations falls a bit flat. Unlike Google Docs Presentations, for instance, which allows you to save your work in Powerpoint format, as well as PDF or text, currently Adobe only lets you save in PDF, which means all your transitions are lost, even if you could use the PDF format as a last option for displaying your creation.
Still, Presentations is still in beta. Buzzword, which has been around (even before being purchased by Adobe), for a few years, currently lets users save in Word, rich text, html, open document, pdf and even the open ebook standard, EPUB. So hopefully the lack of exporting options for Presentations will change as the product matures. While nothing may ever fully replace a dedicated desktop software package for creating professional presentations, even in its infancy I see Adobe’s Acrobat.com Presentations as being a good choice, and hopefully it will only get better.