Monday, March 12, 2007

Review of OpenOffice Impress

The first talk I ever gave at work was done in S5. I like S5 quite a bit; it produces very nice HTML slides. However when showing the slides on a projector the fonts sometimes look too small and run off the edge of the screen if you try to make them bigger. When I attended PyCon earlier this year I noticed that a number of presenters had similar problems with S5. So while I still think S5 is nice, I'd like to find a better tool because I care about how the slides look on the projector.

When I decided to do a Unicode talk at ChiPy, I went looking for alternatives. I ruled out PowerPoint pretty early on because it doesn't generate HTML slides that look good in Firefox (this may have changed in newer versions, but I refuse to upgrade just for that one feature). I also tried to use Bruce, but I couldn't get up and running in a short amount of time.

So I ended up going with OpenOffice Impress. Unfortunately, I came away pretty disappointed with my decision. First of all, there is a debilitating bug in Impress that disables the Text Formatting toolbar when a lot of text is entered into a text area. There are workarounds that you can use to get the Text Formatting toolbar enabled again, but it caused me to waste a lot of time.

When it came time to publish my slides on the web, I was underwhelmed by the export features:

  • Exporting to HTML causes every slide to be turned into an image, and fails to render the embedded tables (created using OpenOffice Calc).
  • Exporting to PDF was mostly OK, except that if you choose the "Export notes" option you'll essentially generate two pages for each slide -- one without notes, one with notes.
  • The Flash (SWF) version looks fine but has no navigation buttons. Also, I don't think you can resize the text in it.

Although my overall experience was not good, I may use Impress again in the future. After all, the slides did look decent on the projector, and it was easy to embed Calc tables into the presentation. But if I can find something better I'll definitely be using that instead.

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