Good presentations, and good presenters, are not a result of good software. But bad presentation software can make creating a good presentation much more challenging. Rather than complaining about poor presentation-ware, Robert Carr and Amy Wieliczka have been working on Glide: a Clutter/GTK-based presentation application to fill the gap.
Sponsored by the Rensselaer Center for Open Source Software, Glide is a GNOME presentation program in its earliest stages. Glide is licensed under the GPLv3, is written in Vala and C, and attempts to do away with some of the baggage of standard presentation applications.
Why yet another presentation program? OpenOffice.org is a relatively adept effort at replicating PowerPoint (circa 2003, before Microsoft introduced the infamous ribbon interface) for Microsoft Office users. It has most of the bells and whistles that are expected for business presentations, but it's slow, cumbersome, and not particularly intuitive for non-Office users. The complexity of OpenOffice.org makes it a duck out of water on the GNOME desktop. One can find more lightweight presentation applications for the Linux desktop, but they typically require the user to work with HTML or another markup language. For example, for those comfortable with HTML, there's Dave Raggett's Slidy, and LaTeX fans can make use of the LaTeX beamer class. But standalone presentation apps have not fared well. Many of the efforts have gone unmaintained, such as MagicPoint and Pointless.
Glide isn't the first attempt at a GNOMEish presentation application. Agnubis and Criawips came and went before seeing a 1.0 release, and neither has had a release since 2005. In short, there seems to be widespread consensus that a kinder and simpler presentation application is needed but widespread disagreement on how to get there.
And so Glide is the next contender. Whether it will go the distance remains to be seen. At first blush it looks promising, but it's in a shaky state so far. Getting it compiled and working can be a bit of a challenge. Development is moving quickly and the master branch doesn't always compile or work properly. Glide requires Vala, Clutter, and a number of other packages to compile. On Fedora 13 and Ubuntu 10.04 it should compile, but it requires editing the configure.ac to replace clutter-gtk-0.90 with clutter-gtk-0.10.
The most recent branch is in a state of flux and really crash-prone. In fact, the current master is pretty much unusable to create slides at all, though the initial release seemed OK. However, even at this early stage it's possible to get an idea where Carr is going with the application and the general design. But it would be unwise to plan a presentation to the board of directors using Glide in the near future.
Glide offers a much smaller set of functionality than OpenOffice.org, but it's unlikely that the full range of features would be missed by the average user. For example, how many users actually work with the "Fontwork Factory" to distort text or create custom animations. Better yet, should those features even exist? Presentations are not improved by glitz and fancy transitions, but are supported by simple and clean design.
And this is what Glide offers. Glide features a three-pane interface with a toolbar for standard operations (saving, opening, inserting text or pictures, instigating the slideshow mode) and very little clutter. The controls for managing pictures, text, background images, and transitions are docked on the right-hand side of the interface as tabs. So, when tweaking the font size it's necessary to switch to the font tab. When setting transitions, one has to switch to that tab. Adding a foreground image or background image are in separate tabs as well. The tab layout seems like a good interface decision at first, but when actually putting together a slide with several elements it can be annoying switching between the tabs frequently.
In addition to the instability, Glide is currently missing a few features that are or should be mandatory for any acceptable presentation program. For instance, Glide currently lacks the ability to re-arrange slides or export them to well-formed HTML or a video format. Carr has indicated that there will be a timeline editor soon, so this oversight should be addressed quickly. Glide does feature an export to PDF feature or to export to a directory of images, but it'd be a good thing to have the ability to export to HTML so users could post on a blog or Web site natively. Glide also lacks a system for creating slide templates, but this can be worked around by creating a single "master" slide and copying and pasting it as needed, which is what many users (myself included) already do in order to get around OpenOffice.org's ridiculously complex system for creating templates. Carr has also indicated on his blog that this feature is likely to be present in Glide sometime after the first official release.
The text controls currently lack the ability to add bullets easily. Users have easy control of font, size, color, and alignment, but no bullets. This may be more of a feature than a bug, since too many presenters fall into the unfortunate habit of bulleting their audience into a stupor. The number and type of transitions seems reasonable without too much focus on providing fancy transitions. The program is also lacking one of the better features in OpenOffice.org, the split presenter/presentation display that allows the presenter to see all slides while showing a slide on the projector or second monitor.
One possible mistake in the design of Glide is the decision to pursue
another file format for the presentations. Carr has written that one of the next stages for Glide is to implement an archive file format to hold the resources for presentations, but seems to have decided not to utilize or support the Open Document Format (ODF) for presentations (ODP). This is a shame, since it seems wasteful to create yet another file format.
Overall, Glide does look promising for simple presentations once it stabilizes. Having created and given dozens of presentations, it seems to have most of the meat and potatoes features that anyone would need to create a simple and effective presentation. Since Glide is already hosted on GNOME's Git repository, one hopes it will soon see contributions from others. One of the initial complaints voiced on Carr's blog is that Glide was being written in C as opposed to GNOME favorites Python or Vala, but he seems to be going back and re-writing at least some components in Vala. Glide seems to have a bit of momentum and interest in the GNOME community, so let's hope that this push continues. It's not yet close to production quality, but with a little more work and a few more hands it could become a suitable replacement for bulkier applications.
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