Thursday, March 18, 2010

Presentation Software

I do all my writing in LyX, a very user-friendly authoring program that employs LaTeX as its publishing engine. It makes for nice-looking output, and composing math (which I do a fair bit) is very easy once you get the hang of it. LaTeX contains numerous user-contributed packages, and I find Till Tantau's Beamer package excellent for doing presentations. The presentations are generated as PDF files (with options for handouts and notes).

Business students are a bit disconcerted by the use of PDF (as opposed to PowerPoint), but there are advantages. Not least of those advantages is a comparative freedom from Adventures in Fonts. At a conference, presenters often share a single laptop brought by one of them. A couple of years ago, I attended a conference where the presenters were split roughly equally between Beamer users (mainly I think from Europe, some from the U.S.) and PowerPoint users (mainly from the U.S.). Both groups of users tended to have equations in their presentations. This was no problem for the Beamer users (with perhaps one exception), because the necessary math fonts were embedded in the PDF files. The PowerPoint users, however, relied on the laptop having the requisite fonts installed, and approximately half the PowerPoint presentations ended up with equations that were either missing (the space was there but appeared blank) or garbled.

PowerPoint does have advantages in terms of eye-candy, though. That advantage is somewhat negated by Martin Fiedler's Impressive program. Impressive allows me to present PDF files with transitions. I use the default, which is a random mix, but the transitions can be customized. More useful features, from my perspective, are the ability to highlight parts of a slide, put a "spotlight" on a portion of a slide, zoom in and out, and use the tab key to bring up thumbnails of all the slides and then jump to the one I want. Impressive is written in Python and runs on Linux, Mac OS and Windows. Very handy!

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