Web-based presentation service Prezi, which lets you create fluid shows that zoom in, zoom out and pan around information using either predetermined paths or ones you create on the fly, has as little in common with PowerPoint as it possibly can and still be in the same category. But it’s announcing a new feature today which is so logical that I was startled when I realized it didn’t already exist: the ability to import files from Microsoft‘s presentation package.
Prezi can be used both for in-person and online presentations, and is used for everything from standard business communications to school projects to resumes; the company says its ten million users create a new presentation every second. The service may be best known for its use at TED conferences — here’s TED honcho Chris Anderson using it to conduct a talk on Web video at a 2010 TED event…
Melding PowerPoint and Prezi presents an interesting challenge. On one hand, PowerPoint is such a pervasive show-and-tell tool that it’s hard to imagine another presentation product not letting users do some sort of import. But Prezi, with its zoom-and-pan interface and unstructured approach to storytelling, doesn’t involve slides or transitions or most of PowerPoint’s trademark features. (Converting a PowerPoint show into a Prezi sounds a tad like translating iambic pentameter into a limerick.)
As it turns out, what Prezi is introducing doesn’t really amount to turning PowerPoints into Prezis. Instead, you import all the slides from a PowerPoint into Prezi, and can then drag some or all of them into an existing Prezi presentation. Once they’re there, you can zoom and pan around them just as with any Prezi element. Everything is editable, so you can tweak text, delete items and move stuff around.
Importing PowerPoint slides is one of the toughest challenges in the whole world of productivity software and services; I don’t know of a single product that does it comprehensively and flawlessly. With the slides I imported, Prezi threw out multimedia elements such as animations, removed backgrounds and didn’t retain layouts all that well. In one case, it gave me an error message saying it couldn’t important a presentation — even though it already had done so.
All of this is less crippling than it sounds, though: if you want a PowerPoint to look like PowerPoint, you should be doing it in PowerPoint. Importing one into Prezi is useful mostly if you want to use bits and pieces and rework them into something that looks like it was created in Prezi. And for that, the new PowerPoint option does the job — you can, for instance, grab charts that originated in a PowerPoint presentation and repurpose them. (Prezi has features for building org charts and a few other types, but doesn’t let you create mundane bar and pie charts of the sort that are a PowerPoint specialty.)
If you need to communicate ideas to groups, Prezi is worth checking out, whether or not the new PowerPoint feature piques your interest. The basic version, with 100MB of storage and no ability to make presentations private, is free. Two premium editions, at $59 and $159 a year, get you more space, private presentations and additional features such as the ability to edit shows offline.