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Beyond Microsoft Office: We compare 9 productivity suites

Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and their Office allies can be great applications, but not everybody needs everything they offer. How do you know where to start when shopping for alternative software? You'll save money with a different brand, but will it do the trick? Should you buy boxed software, download freebies for your hard drive, access browser-based apps, or juggle all of the above?

We've reviewed nine productivity suites--including downloads and online services--and cooked up a jumbo chart mixing up their gumbo of features and file formats. IBM's release of Lotus Symphony beta added more spice to … Read more

Make flashy, yet simple presentations with Prezentit

Bored of Google Presentations already? If you're looking for something with a little more pizazz, there's Prezentit, a Web-based presentation maker. Like Google, Vyew, and others, Prezentit lets you build, and work on a presentation with several collaborators at once, all in your browser. You can send out the finished product as a URL, or even download it in the form of an HTML file that will run on any computer with a browser installed. These are handy features, but how does it stack up on features? The answer, unfortunately, is not well.

As far as presentation makers go, Prezentit is pretty bare-bones. You can only add text and images, and there are no slide templates like you'll find on PowerPoint. To add content, you can upload image files from your hard drive, which get stored in a free storage locker that holds up to 250MB. There's also a gallery of background art, although you're limited to less than 20 sample shots. Unfortunately, there's also no way to upload a PowerPoint file and have it convert to the editor, which is where these services can be incredibly useful, especially for creating a highly searchable index.

So what sets Prezentit apart from the pack? Despite its lack of features, its interface is wonderfully easy to use. If you're familiar with Microsoft Office 2007's "Ribbon" UI, the idea isn't too far off. There's also a slew of genuinely good-looking transitions, many of which are smooth, and low on the cheese factor (read: there are no glitter graphics or explosions.) While there's no built-in chat client, there are hosting pages for each presentation that double as a place to let others add their two cents about what could be better. The service is also adding an "explore" section soon for publicly shared presentations.

I wouldn't recommend using Prezentit over some of the other Web-based presentations out there simply due to a dearth of features I think are pretty essential to a good presentation app, but the service is young, and there's definitely room for growth. We've got more screenshots after the break.… Read more

Google Presentations gets the green light

Google announced the launch on Monday night of its long-awaited, Web-based competitor to PowerPoint.

Google Presentations, which is free, is part of the company's online office suite, Google Docs.

Right off the bat, you will notice that Presentations has some of the same basic functionality as Microsoft's PowerPoint. It does enable you to create some really basic presentations, with themes, but the lack of features and slide show polish are real turn-offs for me.

Yes, there are nice collaboration features, just like the other Google Docs applications, but if the final product isn't on par with what … Read more

Rumor that just won't die: Google Presentations 'any day now'

Despite many signs pointing to a release of Google's presentation service at last week's Office 2.0 Conference (coverage), the only thing we got were some new tweaks to Docs and Spreadsheets that went largely under the radar. This morning, The Inquirer is claiming that things are stirring in the depths of Google's Mountain View headquarters, and the app is set to launch "any day now." They're also claiming that the app will be integrating technology from both of Google's slide show and presentation acquisitions Tonic Systems and Zenter, which the company bought … Read more

PowerPoint presentations speak with SlideShare

SlideShare, which lets you share PowerPoint presentations with the world, today added the capability to match audio tracks to slide shows. This is a cool feature that podcasters could exploit to show and tell a story at the same time. Professors, marketers, and other storytellers might give this free tool a whirl to provide remote access to their work instead of using software such as Adobe Captivate or TechSmith Camtasia. You could even use Slideshare to narrate a PowerPoint-based photo gallery of your vacation. Come to think of it, why don't more photo-sharing sites follow Zooomr's lead (more here) … Read more

Google acquires Zenter, online slideshow tool

Google has just announced its acquisition of Zenter, a small company that makes software for creating online slideshows--a much rumored, and fully confirmed product Google's CEO Eric Schmidt officially announced a few months ago at the Web 2.0 Expo.

Zenter joins Tonic Systems, another presentation-creation service Google picked up back in April.

Zenter first unveiled its service in mid-March and has since stayed fairly quiet. The service lets users import Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, as well as grab bits of content from all over the Web for making presentations that can be viewed and shared in the Web browser. … Read more

For new Sanyo projector, short is better

In our remote-driven society, distance is often considered a good thing. The farther away a gadget can work, the better.

So in this sense, a new projector from Sanyo is somewhat counter-intuitive: Its biggest selling point is how close it can be positioned to the image it's projecting. The LP-XL40 has an "ultra-short-focus lens" that can project the equivalent of an 80-inch screen from just 3.15 inches away, according to Akihabara News.

Why is this a good thing? Think about all the tight spots where it can work--such as mounted on a wall directly above the … Read more

Google's PowerPoint viewer goes live

Gmail users who get Microsoft PowerPoint attachments in their in-boxes can now view them without having PowerPoint installed on their machines. Google appears to have flipped the switch to allow this feature as of last night. We originally reported on this last month, although at that time it appeared that only a handful of accounts had access. This option now shows up on all accounts.

Also, somewhat related: today is the unofficial "Day without Google," a challenge that asks people to try doing their searches on alternate search engines outside of the "Big 5" which includes … Read more

First peek at Google's PowerPoint killer?

Some Gmail users (including me, but not Josh, nyah nyah) have a new option in their in-box: PowerPoint files that are sent to them can now be viewed "as slide show." When you click on this link, you're given a full-window, Flash-based slide show of the file, with forward and back buttons at the top of the screen and a slide selector drop-down menu.

Right-clicking gives you options to play the slide show automatically, adjust the speed of the autoplay, and download the original file.

This is probably the presentation player that will be part of Google'… Read more

Review Basics: Free Web-based collaboration

Review Basics is a collaborative workspace for small teams and businesses. It runs right in your browser, and offers a fairly simple and straightforward way for others to share and leave feedback on photos, video files, and office documents. The interface runs entirely in Flash, so there are no special extensions to download, or programs that need to be installed on your computer. Just start up a workspace and go.

Review Basics works with a variety of common office document standards like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and PDF. It also can handle uploading an entire zipped folder, so if you get a zipped attachment in an e-mail, you can upload it straight to the service without having to unpack it and send files one at a time. Review Basics also handles videos, although they have to be in the .FLV Flash format, which despite its popularity on the Internet, isn't a consumer-friendly standard compared to .MOV and .AVI. Files are capped off at 25MB apiece, so if you're working with any video clip over a minute or two, it's likely to be too large.

Annotating media is fairly simple. Users get five different tools to mark what's on the screen: boxes, arrows, a highlighter, call-outs, and emoticons. There is no drawing tool, which is one thing I enjoy and make use of on other collaborative workspace services like ConceptShare [hands-on] and Octopz [hands-on]. I think at a basic level it makes things feel familiar, like using a pen. There are still boxes which can be resized and color coded, but for irregularly shaped elements, you're out of luck.

To separate which feedback is being displayed, you can toggle each person's edits on and off. It's a lot like PhotoShop when you show or hide layers, and useful when you have more than two or three people working on a piece of media at a time, as things tend to get crowded.

Review Basics is very versatile for a free app, but it's missing a few things I think would make it far more competitive in this space. I'd like a way to leave audio or video notes. Some people (like me) find it easier to hit a record button, say something and move on, instead of writing it out. I'd also like to see live chat or live video conferencing, something that can take telephones out of the equation for both businesses and customers. The service is planning on moving to a paid model in the future, adding these things would certainly put it in the realm of some of the other services charging monthly fees.

The team has put together a series of hands-on demos you can play with to get a feel for the service. [More screens after the break.]

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