August 2014 meeting – report by Peter Richmond
Our August meeting was a presentation on presentation software, with Peter Richmond looking at what is available on a number of platforms including RISC OS. Peter first considered what might be a definition of presentation software, and came up with “presentation software can create screens with a common theme or background, that can apply styles to paragraphs and words such as headings, sub-headings, bulleted and non-bulleted lists, without distracting window furniture”.
He then explained that the ‘window furniture’ bit basically meant that there wouldn’t be the usual on-screen items that make a computer screen look like a computer screen – such as scroll bars, iconbars, cursors and mouse pointers. Effectively the software loses all the desktop items.
Peter then explained that he’d been working with PowerPoint ever since it came out – many years ago when Windows 3.1 roamed the earth! He had a look at the history of presentation software, and harked back to the era of 35mm slide shows. Originally when titles were to be made, you would have used Letraset on a grid and carefully made your titles, and then shot them with a 35mm camera with a reel of 35mm ‘slide’ film in it.
When computers came along, programs were devised whereby text could be justified or centred along with underlining, maybe with different fonts and the capability of producing graphs, which could be used in business presentations. At the time there was no such thing as a video projector, so a special monitor arrangement was devised whereby the CRT screen was photographed by a stills camera with a 35mm slide film. The finished slides would then be placed in special holders and run from a 35mm slide projector.
These slide holders were called carousels, and could run presentations in a continuous loop if needed. This is of course is one of the ways that presentation software can be used: unattended ‘loop’ presentations for either demonstrations or sales purposes. The first software of this type that Peter remembered for RISC OS was an Archimedes World program which showed one Mode 15 sprite on the screen – probably around 1992. This sort of thing would have been useful for video titling since Mode 15 is a TV mode, but nowadays presentations have to work in all screen modes.
There then came a number of ‘carousel’ picture presentations on RISC OS – you probably remember the one that came free with the first RiscPCs. In the PC world however, PowerPoint had established an early lead in the presentation software market – although there were other programs, such as Harvard Graphics, which did similar things.
Sales and promotion
Peter then showed a presentation that he had used for the last Wakefield Show, for promoting the Club. It was a looped presentation and, as Peter remarked, was designed to be flashy and eye-catching with slides changing quickly along with large differently coloured text and various transitions between the slides – almost the opposite of what is required for an educational or business type of presentation. This was originally created on RISC OS in Spacetech’s OHP, but was then transferred to The Really Small Software Company’s Fade on this occasion. Both of these programs are still currently available.
Peter then had a look at some PowerPoint presentations that he had transferred over to his iPad, and was showing via a VGA adaptor. He started with a presentation that he had based upon one that he uses in his work at Leeds University: this employed a dark to black graded colour background, which he explained gave a more professional look than a block colour background. He then went on to explain that since the vast majority of video projectors do not have the contrast range of a modern day monitor, you tend have greyish blacks and less bright highlights when images from a projector are compared to a monitor. Care must be taken when designing any background to a slide how.
The software that Peter was using on the iPad to show these PowerPoint presentations was WPS, which was formerly known as Kingsoft Office, although there are a number of free programs on the iPad and Android devices, which can do this. Unfortunately there is nothing currently on RISC OS that can show PowerPoint presentations (unless they have been converted to JPEG pictures in which case the way that the slide ‘builds’ up element by element is lost).
Using the iPad as a display for PowerPoint presentations showed up a few shortcomings in the software: when the effects of text appearing ‘word by word’ and in ‘typewriter’ mode were used, it appeared more slowly than on a PC – although each bullet point of text appeared in the prescribed way. The aim of these slides was to show the range of text transitions that are available within PowerPoint: each line of text, along with its unique transition effect being ushered in by a key-press (or more accurately a ‘swipe’) on the iPad.
The other thing being demonstrated with the bullet points in this presentation was that the colour that each bullet appeared in was a bright colour; as a new bullet point entered the previous bullet point changed in colour to a darker colour, which had the effect of always highlighting the current bullet point while still allowing previous ones to be read. This is called ‘dim-back’ in PowerPoint terminology.
Peter then showed how text and pictures can be ‘linked together’, so that a particular bullet point might have a picture appear at the same time whereas another bullet point may have no picture attached with it. This gives more flexibility in how the required information is put across. To create PowerPoint compatible presentations at home Peter uses the Open Office suite of programs on a PC, which is broadly compatible with PowerPoint – ideally presentations should be checked using the free PowerPoint viewer that is available before relying on them in the real thing.
Peter then mentioned how there is now software available to convert a PowerPoint into a Flash presentation (although not on a Mac): a voice-over can be linked into a PowerPoint to produce a web version of a ‘lecture type’ presentation along with some interactivity. He has made such a presentation for use within Leeds University.
If you were using an iPad as your means of creating a presentation, you could also use KeyNote – which is free and has some good methods of making graphics ‘appear’, such as three photos sliding over the top of each other to a final set position, but doesn’t seem to be able to let bullet points appear one by one. In order to get the files on to the iPad, Peter showed us a device he got for Christmas which creates a WiFi hotspot and lets you plug SD cards or USB memory sticks in to it so that it can transmit the files over WiFi to the iPad.
Something that software on other platforms supports, and which currently cannot be done by RISC OS, is to show notes about the slide on a ‘local’ screen along with a reduced size version of the relevant slide, yet show only the slide on a remote graphics device (usually a projector). Surprisingly even the iPad can do this, since effectively a dual-head graphics card is needed in order to use this function. Other aids for the presenter are a virtual laser, which can be used to highlight a particular area of a slide, and the ability to draw around objects on a slide (which is available within OHP).
Presenting on RISC OS
The latest versions of PowerPoint now are in XML format, which Peter was fairly sure cannot be handled by any RISC OS software – unless anyone knows differently! Currently OHP is the most ‘PowerPoint like’ presentation software for RISC OS: it can work with a remote mouse and has the ability to annotate slides, but unfortunately does not allow you to create a ‘complete’ slide and then show all the elements of the slide in the order that you want (with linked in pictures where required).
Peter went on to demonstrate another use of presentation software: helping to learn a foreign language. The slides contain three words: the Russian word at the top, the phonetic way to say the Russian word underneath it, and finally the English translation at the bottom. If you created this in PowerPoint, you’d create the ‘full’ slide, and then decide to have the three elements of the slide appear one after the other by means of a mouse click.
To do the same thing in OHP you have to create the final slide in Draw, then create two slides before it: the first with just one element in it, and the second with just two elements in it. You can see that this is bit of a faff, particularly if you have seven elements in a slide, some of which appear together, whereas others arrive separately! Effectively you have to ‘de-construct’ the slide in reverse order, which is really a bit of a mental gymnastic exercise that we could do without.
Peter then told us that the first set of slides of the evening (shown above left), on the screen before the meeting started, were made using a RISC OS program from years ago: Textease Presenter. This was last available in RISC OS format as part of the Textease ‘suite’ of programs in about 2006 (Peter’s version was 2002), but lets you work in a PowerPoint-type way of constructing a slide, then introducing the elements one by one. It’s a much quicker way of working.
Another option that is available, but wasn’t demonstrated, was the use of multi-page documents within ArtWorks. You can make backgrounds, and templates for things such as bulleted lists, and then use it to export the drawfiles needed by OHP by creating each on a separate page. Alternatively you could use the ArtWorks Viewer in full screen mode to view on a RISC OS machine that doesn’t have ArtWorks.
An informative application
Peter then moved on to the use of an information system. He said he’d been prompted to think about this while on holiday in Scotland a few years ago. Basically he outlined a very simple timed loop system, that would act as on-screen information about a hotel and thus would only have a few screens – but give information as to meal times, television channels, reception hours and the like – an example is shown above.
Nowadays this would be a very easy system to implement on a Raspberry Pi, and its low power consumption and small size would make an ideal system. It takes less power than a PC on standby – and has no fan! The only possible complication is that it would be nice to have an on-screen clock. Conversely, if the TV is a hotel ‘type’ of TV it could well have a clock built in. There are many uses for this type of looped system for information in hotel lobbies, train stations and airports for rarely changing material.
Peter also mentioned that a system that could be updated by staff may be of use on a cruise ship, where there is often a camera showing a picture with the view out across the bows of the ship on the TV information system in each cabin. This could give prior information of sights to look out for and the approximate time, general direction of the ship, approximate time to the next port etc. In this case, the signal would have to be ‘genlocked’ (a form of video synchronisation), so that the titles would appear on-top of the camera signal.
Peter then went on to look at how relatively easy it is to give a more professional look to a slide show. He said that most people just do a PowerPoint show against a white background – because its easy. For a more professional look, however, Peter said that he preferred a graded dark colour background with light coloured text. Choosing the right sort of clip-art can make a great difference.
He showed us a presentation he had seen at his previous job, and commented afterwards that it could have looked more professional without too much difficulty. Later on in the same day he had done this with just three of the slides to show what a difference could be made quite easily.
Finally Peter finished by saying that he’d really like a more ‘PowerPoint-like’ presentation system to be available for RISC OS: one in which slides can appear ‘element by element’. If there are any developers who wish to try that... It sounds as though it could be quite simple, but I’m sure it isn’t!