UPDATE: Check out the Simple HTML Slides project page for more information.
Powerpoint, and to a lesser extent Apple’s Keynote, have a vise-like grip on the psyche of a huge percentage of the computer users on the planet. In business, government and education it’s difficult to get through the day without encountering at least one Powerpoint presentation, and we’ve all faced the dreaded “Death by Powerpoint” decks of a hundred slides crammed with 8 point type.
Sites like EducationWorld.com are chock-full of articles written by educators showing teachers how to integrate Powerpoint into the curriculum. Alas, many teachers and curriculum directors think teaching students how to use Powerpoint is an important part of “teaching 21st century technology skills,” while teaching the fundamentals of open web technologies gets almost no attention.
With Firefox 4, and the other modern standards-based browsers, we have an opportunity to create not just compelling web sites, but apps, games and utilities. Figuring out how to obsolete Powerpoint with an open, connected presentation tool would show the world that browsers can do much more than just render Facebook pages.
I’ve just started an experiment aimed in that direction. It is far from being a “Powerpoint killer”. That would require the efforts of community members with far better code cutting skills than mine. Rather, this is an exercise in thinking through what it might take to get a toe-hold in the mindshare of current Powerpoint and Keynote users.
Here’s my guess at the minimum requirements:
- Tidy: It must provide reasonably nice looking presentations without requiring graphic design skills on the part of the user. Just as CSS separates the presentation from the content of HTML, we need a way to allow users to concentrate on the content while writing their presentations.
- Enticing: It needs a “hook” to entice existing Powerpoint and Keynote users to give it a try.
Inspired by Atul Varma’s Magic Ink blog post and his htmlpad slides, I’ve hacked-up a first cut. It uses Janne Aukia’s wonderful Zoomooz.js jQuery plugin. I encourage everyone to play with Simple HTML Slides and then remix the code and the ideas to make them better.
UPDATE: Version 1.2 of the Simple HTML Slides sync controller includes support for converted PDF slide decks. See Turn PDF Slide Decks into HTML5 Web Presentations in Under 5 Minutes
Here’s how the prototype addresses the requirements above:
- Enticing:The solution includes an anonymous slide synchronizing server. Users anywhere in the world can see a synchronized slide presentation simply by browsing to the presentation URL. No screen sharing software required. The presentation need not be hosted on the slide-sync server. The synchronization server sees only the control commands and an MD5 hash of the URL. Neither the presentation URL nor the contents of the presentation are ever sent to the slide-sync server. The slide-sync server is open source, so you can choose to run your own.As a bonus, this works on mobile devices like the iPhone, and iPod Touch that have modern browsers, so you can use your phone as a remote when presenting in front of a group.
This is just one approach to replacing Powerpoint with standards-based open web technologies. Please think of a better one, or remix this one, and share it with the community.