Last updated: Feb. 17, 2006, 10:04 p.m.

Here we go again, Microsoft bashing! However, I will say now that other presentation packages irritate me as well, although there is something particularly annoying about the Microsoft product.

Well, I better put in some context. One of the last bits of assessment for the first semester of my Electronic Engineering degree, was a presentation on a design project we had been set. The presentation didn't irritate me in itself, although I find it sad that they feel engineers have to be taught these sort of things, but management techniques could be an entire new rant! However we were instructed that we had to write a presentation in Microsoft Powerpoint. This immediately irritated me enormously, as any one who knows me can imagine. The idea that they could demand we used an expensive, proprietary piece of software, that is notorious for incompatibility with documents generated with other software, was frankly offensive.

After this initial irritation, I eventually got around to writing the report, and decided to use Powerpoint from the start since I do have a copy, and I didn't want to waste any time re-formatting it if I used for example OpenOffice. Generally the program is ok, but the default layouts of slides are unhelpful at best and at worst look like something a small child would layout out with building bricks. I had to spend a large amount of my time making new slide layouts that used all the space available. The idea that you have huge margins on a slide used to project onto a screen with a border-less projector is frankly absurd. When making a presentation, it is useful to remember that your audience is likely to contain at least one person who is short sighted and forgot their glasses, so all your fonts should be larger than you initially feel is appropriately sized when looking at it on your monitor. This fact means that you want to use as much of the slide as possible, not leave borders totalling about one quarter of the total area of the slide.

Backgrounds and animations. These two things that Powerpoint provides are, in fact almost entirely useless. With the possible exception of the bored marketing executive, no business person should ever try to use these special slide transitions, or animations, if they do, I suspect they will be laughed at by everyone who watches the presentation, or at the very lest make the audience feel severely embarrassed about what they're looking at. As far as the backgrounds that are provided by Microsoft with the package are concerned, they are either ugly, or so garish and distracting, that they have almost the same nauseating effect on the audience as the "typewriter" animation for text.

The final straw was when I went to try and output to an executable, so that I wouldn't have to worry about any version conflicts within the program, it crashed. Not so surprising, Microsoft products do have a reputation for crashing after all, however, it consistently crashed the entire operating system any time I tried to make an executable. Interestingly, I found that some of my fellow students had exactly the same crash when they tried to pack their presentation, despite the fact they were using different versions of the software.

In summary, the software is irritating and unhelpful. However OpenOffice "Impress" is not a lot better (except it doesn't crash so often obviously!). In general computer based presentations are irritating, and usually badly done. However if you have to do a presentation, hopefully you will have a choice of what software, if you do, consider OpenOffice (at least it's free!) or another package I used to like, Lotus Freelance Graphics, that one of my lecturers is now using which greatly pleased me when I noticed.



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