Manfred Kuechler (Hunter College)
Posted: March 1999
Latest update: April 16, 2000
See also: PP presentations in Blackboard/CourseInfo
 
Note that the discussion in this paper is based on Real Presenter 5.0 (also referred to as the "Powerpoint plugin"). In the spring of  2000, the "Real Presenter G2" (version 6) has become available which offers improved functionality (especially the "Plus" version).  At this point, I have not fully evaluated the new product. However, the recommendations in this paper will probably change when I am done with testing. Due to other commitments, I am not sure when this will be.

Serving Powerpoint Presentations from the Web

This is another document summarizing my explorations into delivering multimedia material via the Web.
I gratefully acknowledge the support provided through a "New Teaching Initiatives" grant by the Office of the President.
If you "deep linked" directly to this page, you may want to check out the main page as well. 

MS Powerpoint (PP) has become a very popular presentation tool allowing easy preparation of "slide shows" -- a series of pages containing either text or images (pictures, charts, tables) and even sound and video clips. PP 97 (and now PP 2000) also offers an option to add a narrative to a slide show turning it into a genuine multimedia tool. [1] PP is part of the MS Office Suite (Professional Edition). While Hunter/CUNY does not have a site license for this product, it is available at a steep educational discount for about $40-50 for the whole suite including MS Word, Excel, and Access (database software). Check with Frank Lopez at OICIT for current pricing and authorized educational retailers.

Improvements over previous versions are significant, so users of older versions should definitely check out PP 97 and the new Office 2000 suite. OICIT's faculty training and resource center, directed by Mike Nisbett, offers workshops on Powerpoint for people who like some initial assistance; check their web site for details on dates and registration procedure.

Beyond the use of such material for live presentations -- either at meetings, conferences, or in the classroom -- PP presentations can be used as course material and be made available via a web course page. This page deals with the options available for such use of PP presentations and their advantages and disadvantages -- not with producing PP presentations in the first place (I am not an expert on this).

The three basic options for web delivery of PP presentations are:

The advantages and disadvantages of each options are summarized in the following table:
 
ppt format html format Real format
Software/system setup issues
Additional software needs on viewer (student) side free PP 97/98/2000 Viewer available for Win9x and NT platforms (PP 97 viewer for Win 3.x); download from MS web site none free Real Player G2; download from Real Systems site
Starting with Netscape 4.61 the Real Player comes as part of the package
Additional software needs on producer (instructor) side none none; built-in html conversion routine in PP 97, may not be part of default installation Powerpoint plug-in; cost about $30
Additional needs on system (web server) side appropriate "mime type" must be specified; no cost, a tiny bit of work (for web server administrator) none can be served from a regular web server with adjustments of mime types;
better performance with specialized RealServer (now available at Hunter)
Upload specifics none as the html conversion results in a large number of individual files (3 per slide) plus several common files, an efficient ftp program is needed such as QVT or Host Explorer (both available for free as part of a Hunter/CUNY site license) none, if the regular httpd server is used; but associated "meta" files must be created --
if the Real Server is used, assistance by the Real Server administrator is currently needed (I am working on a better solution) 
Presentation traits
True multimedia -- genuine audio component (narrative) or including video clips tends to produce rather large files and consequently long download times over modem connections audio and video will be lost, only still images can be converted the true strength of this option; file size will be reduced compared to initial .ppt format and the streaming format allows for parallel download and play;
different version can be produced for download via modem or LAN/T1
Slide show with special effects (animations , slide transitions [2]) fully preserved, but use of such features increases file size special effects will be lost special effects will be lost [3]
"Plain vanilla" slide show (no sound, no animations, no fancy slide transitions) compact file size, no specific problems with serving via the Web fully preserved  fully preserved, but raw file size may increase depending on conversion options

Recommendations

Notes

[1] Sound cards are no longer a luxury. These days, a Pentium-class computer including sound card and internal modem can be bought for about $500 (like the eTower 333K from emachines). Most existing work stations (486 or better) can easily by upgraded by adding a sound card for as little as some $40 (we did this in the Social Science lab in spring 99). For headphones or speakers and microphones, there is a considerable price range, but a basic headphone/mike setup costs as little as $25. Check my advice page on finding competitive prices for computer hardware to locate suitable products and vendors.

[2] Animation in this context means a gradual ("animated") built up of a slide/page by having objects (text or images) move in from top, bottom, either side. In case of text, line after line can be added, or word after word, or even letter after letter -- optionally accompanied to the sound of a typewriter or a swoosh. I consider most of these as gimmicks without any real didactic value, very much like animated gifs on web pages. Some of these are funny when you see them for the first time, but they get old very quickly. But, this is certainly a matter of personal taste :-)
Slide transitions include fade ins, fade outs, roll ups, roll downs, etc. So, while the actual slides may be static (not animated) these transition create an impression of movement. Again, the didactic value of this is minimal.

[3] Real offers its own production tools including a slide show generator which allows similar slide transition effects; see examples on my main multimedia page. However, the internal format is different, so the Real plugin for PP is not able to preserve the PP slide transitions.

[4] The single most important issue in controlling file size is a wise choice of image format and/or compression options. For a face-to-face presentation image quality may be top priority, but for web delivery a compromise between image quality and file size must be sought. Often, file size can be reduced drastically with hardly noticeable loss in image quality. Powerpoint offers a lot of assistance in creating slide shows (e.g., "wizards") and can be instructed to take Internet use into consideration. So, newly created presentations can be designed accordingly.