First off, Thumbstacks.com, the new web-based Flash/AJAX presentation software I blogged about recently, is definitely still in the alpha testing phase, and the current lack of features is to be expected in these early stages of deployment. However, I’ve now played around with the software, and there seem to be some distinct pros and cons that I can see so far:
- Right-click menus make it easy to insert images from flickr or your computer. Alternatively, right-clicking along the list of slides offers nice standard options for creating new slides, deleting old ones, etc…
- Pre-made templates offer an instant way to make your presentation look nice, as well as to keep a consistent format throughout.
- Real-time text editing and image manipulation responded well when tested, with little to no lag, and newly imported images loaded quickly.
- Image manipulation lacks several important features, such as the ability to maintain proportion of the image when resizing it (Shift doesn’t work).
- The templates collection is quite limited, and there is little to no info encouraging others to create and submit templates. Perhaps those in charge plan to add this in in the future.
- As far as I could tell, there are no options to choose a ‘style’ for an individual slide. PowerPoint offers users several different arrangements for the slides, such as text/image side-by-side, all text, and various other combinations. Such flexibility, combined with the existing templates in Thumbstacks, would really make the program sing.
In spite of its current limitations, Thumbstacks definitely shows promise, not least of all because its native format supports collaboration and sharing of work with multiple users, thereby overcoming the main weak point of PowerPoint. Soon it should be possible to demonstrate a product to a client over the web, or hold a meeting with representatives from several different firms, without worrying about whether or not sufficient PowerPoint licenses are in existence to support such an endeavour, or if application compatibility will become an issue. The combination of Flash with an AJAX backup ensures that a majority of visitors will have no issues viewing others’ presentations. All in all, Thumbstacks is showing definite progress. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it gets bought up by Google before too long, perhaps as a nice addition to the newfangled Google Account.
If you’ve ever worked with PowerPoint, you’ve probably found that one of the most frustrating limitations of working with the program is the lack of good options for sharing your presentations via the web. Of course, PowerPoint does offer the ‘Save as Web Page‘ option, but as anyone who tries to use the feature will quickly discover, the ‘web page’ is actually a pointer file and an entire folder of ‘slides,’ a cumbersome solution at best. Furthermore, in order to truly experience the full feature-set of a PowerPoint presentation, you ultimately need PowerPoint, which costs money.
For those who create their presentations with the intention of sharing them, and want to circumvent PowerPoint’s limitations and the high cost of the Office suite, Thumbstacks.com is an exciting new option in the world of web-based applications. Users create an account, then can immediately begin to build their presentations. Admittedly, Thumbstacks does not offer the complete feature set that PowerPoint does, but it utilizes either Flash (if installed) or AJAX to produce some pretty impressive results. There are several different slide templates, and you can customize slides with different fonts and images, all while editing each element in real time. Best of all, Thumbstacks makes it incredibly easy to publish your presentation via their website, so that anyone can view your finished work, either in real time or at a time of their own choosing, depending on how you set the preferences.
For now, Thumbstacks.com is in the alpha testing phase, meaning that the user interface has some definite bugs, and that sometimes certain functionality will disappear of fail, presumably while the development team works on the site. However, even in the preliminary phase, it is easy to see that Thumbstacks’ web-based model for presentation creation is a useful idea with many positive benefits in both corporate and academic sectors. Let us only hope that the free accounts don’t disappear once the software leaves the testing stage.