More has been written about the art of the presentation than could ever be covered here, but one thing that usually accompanies your co-workers' demos are PowerPoint slides.
PowerPoint wasn't always a Microsoft product — it was originally called Presenter and created for Macs. The name was changed for legal reasons in 1987, the same year Microsoft bought the company behind it and created its Graphics Business Unit.
Microsoft's version came out with Windows 3.0 in 1990, and the business world has never been the same. The software is such a behemoth, that as of 2012, it held 95 per cent of the presentation software market, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Approximately 350 PowerPoint-based presentations are given every second.
Still, many have a love-hate relationship with PowerPoint, in part because some believe presentation slides are a crutch for bad public speakers. Others fault the software's bloat. Many simply hate meetings and anything associated with them (to which we say, testify, brother!). Everyone else might be using Apple's elegant and easy KeyNote software (which is only free with new Macs).
Sadly, meetings with presentations (and the need for accompanying slides) remain a reality. If you'd rather stay away from Microsoft, and you don't want to install Microsoft Office, or you just wish there was a cool alternative, well — there are, and plenty of them, in fact. Web-based and installable desktop software alternatives to PowerPoint abound. Some are ultra-simplified — which many argue makes them all the better compared to PowerPoint's slew of extras and over-the-top formatting. Some are online-only, so you can access them anywhere as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection.
Wonder why your favourite presentation tool or site may be missing? Well, we can tell you that one of our favourites, SlideRocket, is no longer accepting new customers as it tries to integrate more with sales tool ClearSlide. And we decided not to include sites that are just for sharing presentations like SpeakerDeck, SlideShare, Reel, and SlideSnack to focus on tools for creating slides as well as showing them. We also like Present.me, but it's more about recording video to play along with a separate slide deck created elsewhere.
So, dive right on into the presentation creators and players which follow. None of the software here will make you a better presenter or speaker. But they might just be the right tools you need, and definitely at the right price (free!).
Top free presentation software
Google Drive: Presentation (Web): Like any good office suite, Google Drive has the three top tools necessary: A word processor, a spreadsheet, and of course, a presentation package that we'll call Presentation even though it doesn't seem to have a specific name. Coupled with the service's online storage capabilities, it's a hard package to beat.
Flexibility abounds. You can upload PowerPoint (PPT) files to Google Drive Presentation for editing or playback, or export the Google Drive formatted files to PPT format (or PDF) as needed to work with other systems. Creating a slide deck from scratch? You can choose from 20 visual themes (what PowerPoint calls templates) that work for screens running 4:3, 16:9, or 16:10 ratios. Inside a slide, you can draw shapes, create tables, link shapes, enter unseen comments, and more.
Perhaps most useful are the collaboration features — multiple users in multiple locations can work on the slides simultaneously (something Drive also does with aplomb with word processing and spreadsheet documents). A revision history tracks changes so you can always find out who screwed up what. And you never have to click "Save" to ensure your changes are permanent.
Haiku Deck (Web, iOS): Haiku Deck is well worth considering for all it can and can't do. Use it on the web or via an iPad-specific app to create some incredibly well-designed slides for your next presentation, or as they prefer to call it, your next "story." You can sign in with a Facebook or Twitter account.
As it states in an introductory deck of slides, Haiku Deck is shooing for 33 per cent simplicity, 33 per cent beauty, and 34 per cent fun (as much fun as prepping for a meeting can be, anyway). Haiku Deck stresses the use of art and imagery, making it a must for designers — but it provides access to 35 million pieces of free stock art to go with six included themes. You can purchase more, too.
Once you're done creating a Haiku Deck, showing it is easiest with an iPad, but the decks are also embeddable into sites. They can also be exported into PowerPoint and KeyNote formats, though Haiku Deck would prefer you publish your deck on their site, making it public (the best of them end up in the Haiku Deck Gallery), but you can restrict the audience or make it totally private as desired.
Other free presentation software
Prezi (Web): The biggest downside to Prezi is that its freedom has limits: You can only make Prezis that are public, and they can only be 100MB in size, unless you pay. But oh what fun they can be — Prezi has, hands down, the most unique transitions you'll ever witness. Everything in the presentation is on one, giant slide — you just jump from spot to spot.
Zoho Show (Web, iOS, Android): Zoho's suite of tools never seems to get enough credit, but its Show presentation utility deserves a lot of praise. Part of the free suite with 5GB of space (you can get fifty times more if you have a group of users paying $5 or £3 per month per user), Show is on the web so presentations are available everywhere. It also has PPT import/export, a rich set of tools for slide creation and changes, integrated photo editing, and the ability to broadcast a presentation to other locations.
SlideDog (Windows): Oh you SlideDog (get it?). This Windows software isn't strictly for creating presentations, but it does something different by supporting multiple kinds of presentation files and other formats (like PDFs, Prezi files, video, images, you name it). You drag them all into SlideDog and reorder them to make a "presentation playlist" that can play all at once, or as you command.
PowToon (Web): PowToon creates not only slide decks but also promotional or informational videos to share. The free version sticks a watermark on your work, and it's a hefty $19 (£11) per month minimum to get rid of it! But for free you can get a five minute presentation video — you don't even have to be in the room to give the talk.
emaze (Web): Another web-based presentation tool that auto-saves and looks great? Sounds familiar, but emaze also throws in some "3D" templates, so when you replace the placeholder text you'll get a nice visual effect. The whole site is built on HTML5 so there are no Flash issues, and it works on the web browser of any device, from PCs down to phones. Here's an example from emaze (yes, you can embed and share presentations wherever you like):
PowerPoint Web App (Web): PowerPoint is among the PowerPoint alternatives? Well, unlike the full version that comes with Microsoft Office, the stripped-down PowerPoint Web App handles your PPTs with ease, which shouldn't be a surprise. You'll want a browser with SilverLight installed, and that probably means using Internet Explorer for Windows most of the time. You won't find every feature of the desktop version here, but you will be able to save directly to your SkyDrive (soon to be OneDrive) account for access anywhere. And, of course, this is a completely free solution.
Impress (Windows, Mac, Linux): Once upon a time, Impress was the presentation tool of OpenOffice.org. But now that OoO, as it was called, is dead, the open source office suite has forked into other suites including Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice. And both include Impress, the free slide deck creator with full PPT compatibility. All the suite's apps (you can't get them separately) basically look and act much like Microsoft Office from a decade ago. And that's not a bad thing, but you're not going to get any fancy video or photo editing here.
Presentation Free 2013 (Windows, iOS, Android): Want software that mimics a newer version of PowerPoint — say with the ribbon interface? Kingsoft's Presentation Free does just that. It offers plenty of templates, colours, and animations to make any speaker happy if they need the extra flash. Import of PPTX files is a breeze, but it only outputs the older PPT format or its own, or it just converts slideshow files to PDF.