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Hands-on with SlideRocket, a PowerPoint killer in the making

Could PowerPoint be going the way of the Web? Yes, but it's not there yet. New services like SlideRocket have popped in to try to unseat the presentation king.

I spent some of this weekend using SlideRocket, a new service that's aiming to replace your presentation software with its flashy (actually Flexy) Web-based tools. Is it a real PowerPoint or Apple Keynote killer in its current iteration? Not yet, but I think it's off to a great start.

The service has all the flash and fervor of some other Adobe Flex-based apps we've seen like BuzzWord, Scrapblog, and Picnik. The transitions and stock slide templates are enough to distract you from how potentially boring your presenter is and thought has been put into making things look good from the get-go, no matter your design prowess. In many ways, the final results are indistinguishable from Apple's well-known presentation software Keynote, which has been a part of the company's iWork suite for Macs for the last three years.

Let's start by talking about what makes SlideRocket different from presentation software you might be used to. For one thing it's very Web-friendly. As I mentioned last week in our coverage of the company's demo at the Under the Radar conference (coverage), it's been designed to integrate media and information services you're already using. Big names on the list include Yahoo maps, Flickr, and Google Docs; I foresee others being added in the future--as long as the service has a data API.

Need an image for that presentation? Grab one that has the right CC license right off of Flickr (click to enlarge.) CNET Networks

Linking up to each of these services is handled with some grace, although I found performance to take a hit when adding several Flickr photos to a single slide since the service will check in with Flickr each time you load up the slide. It can be set to do the same thing for Google Documents, but this is actually a good thing in case the source data changes. I've been told local copies of the files will be able to be stored on SlideRocket's servers in the future to speed things up.

Speaking of local storage, SlideRocket has the beginnings of a very smart way to handle shared media. Similar to Keynote, all your files are put together in one place and can be sorted via keywords simply by name. The more time you spend categorizing it, the faster you'll be able to parse it, but the built-in search is instantaneous--which is very helpful. Users get up to 3GB of storage to share photos, music, and videos. These asset libraries are shared in the business editions.

So, how does it stack up against other Web-based presentation tools? If you've ever used Empressr, the player user interface is nearly identical. Where SlideRocket shows its prowess is the creation tool, which is much easier to use and has a wider array of transitions, fonts, and build options that let you automate the presentation.

Where Empressr, Google, Zoho Show, and Vyew have SlideRocket beat is the social side, but it's an almost unfair comparison since SlideRocket has more of a business angle than the rest. You can set up private viewings of slide shows with attendees (minus live chat or telephony), and track viewings to potential customers or clients via the app. There's even a way to see if someone finished watching the presentation or if they gave up halfway through.

SlideRocket's editing interface is full of things to tweak and is friendly with Web media. Seen here is a Flickr photo and a Google map alongside standard text. (click to enlarge)

So, to come back to my original question of whether or not SlideRocket is a worthy replacement of PowerPoint or Keynote depends on your intended use. If you're a casual presenter, Keynote and PowerPoint are both pretty inexpensive (we're assuming you picked up PowerPoint as part of Office, not the $200-plus standalone copy) and come packed with a huge list of features, a big support community, and teams of people working to make them better year over year. On the other hand, even SlideRocket's free version likely does everything you need, with a very high level of finesse, and has the promise of new features that get rolled out all the time. It's also got a higher convenience factor of letting you create and share presentations online, which is hugely helpful if you're out on the road or something goes wrong with your computer.

My advice is to give it a spin and try out the things you're used to doing in either of those two programs. In my case, even the free version of SlideRocket was more than capable of letting me build a good-looking presentation with a minimal amount of effort.

The service is launching a public preview in a few weeks with a launch in July. We've got 500 invites set aside for Webware readers to give it a go, so just click here. Keep in mind the offline functionality isn't available to free members, only to the personal, team, and business plans that run anywhere from $12 to $49 a month and can be seen here.

Presentation management is taken care of on one large screen. You can see thumbnail previews of each presentation you're working on, as well as the option to quickly play them if need be (click to enlarge). CNET Networks