Did you know that Microsoft has a product that is similar to Prezi — sort of? It’s more structured, but still lets you give an overview of the entire presentation and then zoom into specific slides. (I wrote about Prezi here. Note that Prezi has changed and added features since I wrote that blog post.)
pptPlex is part of Microsoft Labs, a place for experimental software. You can download it for free here. When you double-click the file you downloaded, and approve installation, you see this screen.
Because pptPlex is experimental, you need to agree to send usage data to Microsoft, then click Next.
Accept the agreement and click Install. When you install pptPlex, you get a new pptPlex tab on the ribbon. I tested pptPlex in PowerPoint 2013. But when I opened PowerPoint 2007 and 2010, I saw that pptPlex was there, too! Not only that, but a box opened up with a link to a tutorial video! I didn’t get that in 2013. Here’s the link to the brief tutorial.
Create a presentation for pptPlex
You need to start by creating some slides using PowerPoint’s regular tools. I found this approach very comfortable, because I’m so used to designing on slides.
Then, you need to organize those slides into sections. In PowerPoint 2010 and 2013, you can create sections by right-clicking in the left-hand pane and choosing Add Section. Then right-click again and choose Rename Section to give it a meaningful name.
In PowerPoint 2007, there is no section feature, so it’s part of pptPlex. On the pptPlex tab, click Insert New Section. Enter the section name to create a section slide and drag the slide wherever you want it.
When your slides and sections are done, you insert a canvas background. Microsoft has created some prototypes — some are quite inventive. The purpose for the canvas background is to create an overview slide that displays all of the presentation’s sections and slides. In this way, the audience sees the entire structure of the presentation. When you present, pptPlex zooms in and out of the sections and slides in order.
(PowerPoint 2013 has a Slide Show view feature that lists the sections and lets you see all of the slides. In Slide Show view, right-click and choose See All Slides. )
Click the Canvas Background button on the pptPlex tab of the ribbon to select a background for the canvas. I chose Custom Simple. It appears as a 1st slide in the left-hand pane. You can resize the box where the slides will appear, or move it. You can also format this slide’s background to match the rest of your slides.
The backgrounds include explanatory text, which you should delete. You have to try out the various canvas backgrounds to see how they look and function with your content. Do this before you make changes, because displaying a different canvas background discards your customizations.
I used the Canvas Background slide as my title slide. After seeing the overview it created, I didn’t think I also needed a typical title slide. Here’s how it looks in Slide Show view. The area on the right is the overview, displaying my 4 sections and their slides.
You need to choose a canvas background before you can present with pptPlex.
Click Advanced Options to set some options, such as the slide transition, color, template, presentation flow, and more. Be careful; some of the options aren’t pretty. I found the Bounce slide transition to be unsettling.
Click Add Live Content to insert other files, such as Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. This is a nice feature — again, you can zoom in and out and pan.
Presenting with pptPlex
Click the From Overview button to view your presentation. It publishes to pptPlex format. Then you see the canvas background slide with your slides divided up into sections. You can choose From First Slide (or From Current Slide) to skip the overview slide.
During the presentation, the mouse doesn’t work. I used the right arrow key but you can also use the Spacebar, Enter key, or any other key that moves to the next slide.
On each slide, you can zoom in to show content in detail. You generally zoom in using the wheel button of your mouse. You can also pan around the slide by dragging with your left mouse button. This is a great way to show tables, charts and spreadsheet data so that the audience can read them easily. You can also use the wheel button to zoom out at any time, showing your audience the context of any slide.
Here you see the first, overview slide zoomed in to the section that contains the sections and slides.
You can only use the Esc key when you aren’t fully zoomed into one slide.
Apparently, Microsoft is working on a multi-touch version of pptPlex. That would be quite cool.
Unfortunately, all the Tell Me More links on the pptPlex tab just go to a generic Help item about add-ins — useless!
Although animation and transitions don’t work in the pptPlex system, remember that you still have a regular PowerPoint presentation. So, you can present the slides without using the pptPlex canvas by going into Slide Show view as usual.
What do you think?
I think that pptPlex is a well-kept secret. Try it out and share your impressions!