Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Weekend with pptPlex

Some time last fall I believe, Jeff introduced me to pptPlex from Microsoft Office Labs. It does some pretty neat tricks with your slide deck. To me it appeared to be Deep Zoom for Power Point. (And let's be honest, anything to spice up Power Point is a good thing.)

So, I've got a new presentation to put together, and thought now would be a good time to give pptPlex a try. I wasn't disappointed, it does make moving through your presentation more fun. To get it to work there are a couple special slide types it uses, and a different way to launch the deck, and that's about it.

The first special slide is the section divider slide. It has a title and some grayed out text on it. You drag it into the deck at the point you want a section to start, add the title, and done. That section will exist until pptPlex finds another section divider slide. This groups your slides by however you'd like, and applies the title from the section divider slide to that group.

The second special slide type is a canvas slide. This slide ends up being the canvas for the whole presentation. There are a few pre-made ones you can use, and also two custom options. Basically, the layout you choose determines how your slide groups are arranged on the canvas. I ended up using the advanced custom option, which wasn't too hard to lay out. Lots of typical dragging and dropping to get the layout like you want it. Took maybe 10 minutes to get my six sections all set up like I want.

Both the section and canvas slides appear on the new pptPlex portion of the ribbon. Also on that menu are the new options for launch that will start your presentation up in pptPlex mode rather than in traditional Power Point mode. The first of "From Overview" is the one that will start your presentation from the canvas, and is the one I think most people are going to use.

Now for the downsides I ran into...

First issue I came up with was that it didn't work with my presenter mouse. I've got the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000, and no dice with it doing anything in presenter mode. A little searching on the web turns up that pptPlex doesn't yet support that mouse. HOWEVER! It will support use with a Wii remote and an xbox controller. +1 to each for cool factor, but I'm trying to be practical here and still give a presentation.

My solution to this ended up being mapping the two side buttons on my mouse to the left and right keys on the keyboard. It's not the ideal solution, but it will cover 90% of what I'll need to handle during a presentation. There will be a couple of gotchas with this, but it should get the job done.

The second issue I came across was that once you've published your slides to the pptPlex output, you lose all your animations. I don't use animations a lot, but a couple places they would have come in very handy for effect. However, the pptPlex FAQ lays out that they just didn't have time to get that in for this release. (Yo, MS, add one more guy to the team and task him with mouse integration and animation!)

Overall, I'm digging the product. I think it'll help with a lot of my presentations, and I'll probably refactor any of my old ones to use it. The cool factor it brings makes the above two hurdles tolerable.

Besides, a sensor bar and a bluetooth card form my laptop will have me running a Wii controller in no time!

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