The two open-source office suites—OpenOffice and NeoOffice—include presentation modules that are compatible with PowerPoint. I put both through their paces by opening slide shows created with various Mac and Windows versions of PowerPoint, including the space presentation that I created for this article. Both applications handled older PowerPoint files (with a .ppt suffix) with varying success. Neither was able to open PowerPoint 2008 files (in the new .pptx format). If you’re collaborating on complex presentations with other Mac or Windows users, you may run into problems as you transfer files back and forth.
If you’re building presentations from scratch, both OpenOffice and NeoOffice will work, as long as you’re willing to live with some limitations. Because of its dependence on the Unix X11 graphic interface, OpenOffice feels decidedly kludgy and un-Mac-like. NeoOffice feels more familiar, and it’s easier to work with. But its lack of support for sounds and movies is a significant drawback for now (QuickTime support is promised soon), and you won’t have PowerPoint 2008’s extensive library of themes and slide layouts at your fingertips. Still, it’s worth checking out if your presentation needs are modest.
Google Docs is an enticing newcomer that lets you create, collaborate on, and display presentations over the Web. In its current incarnation, however, Google Docs’ presentation features are much too limited: you can’t work on documents larger than 10MB, for example, nor can you work with movies, sounds, or any type of animation. The program’s reliance on the Web also means that you need to be online to access your presentations.
Finally, if your presentations include pictures with only a smattering of text, consider iPhoto for your slide shows. You can use Adobe Photoshop or any other graphics program to create text slides, and then import them into iPhoto for display.
[Franklin N. Tessler is a university professor and radiologist who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and frequently writes and lectures about presentations.]