PowerPoint and Silverlight: a perfect match?
With its place at the heart of the Microsoft Office suite, PowerPoint is the overwhelmingly dominant presentation software for business. However it has a fundamental flaw – it still doesn’t offer an in-built route for efficient, cross-platform, screen-based web delivery. For a program whose whole purpose is to help users get their message over, this is quite astonishing and unforgivable as we approach 2010.
Microsoft might not provide its own solution but there are plenty of third-party applications which fill the gap such as Adobe’s Captivate and Presenter, the bargain Flair from WildFX and my personal favourite Articulate Presenter. The major embarrassment for Microsoft is that these all rely on the Adobe Flash format.
It’s an embarrassment that is made considerably worse by the fact that Microsoft is currently busily touting its own cross-platform web format, Silverlight, as a direct alternative to Flash. It’s clear that PowerPoint and Silverlight should make a perfect match and native Silverlight export would certainly go a long way to explaining (if not excusing) PowerPoint’s lack of support for Flash.
So where is the ability to convert PowerPoint to Silverlight?
I expected Silverlight export to form the central highlight of the new PowerPoint 2010, but bizarrely in the details it has released Microsoft makes no mention of it. Take a look at the PowerPoint 2010 video at Channel 10 and the PowerPoint 2010 video at Microsoft Showcase and you’ll see that the main focus seems to be on new transitions and effects and remote screen-to-screen broadcasting (you’ll also see that the first Channel 10 comment is from a user asking about Silverlight export).
This is getting actively suspicious. With its first release we were told that Silverlight’s major selling-point was its multimedia capabilities. That was over two years ago so what is the problem? If Silverlight 3.0 can’t efficiently deliver PowerPoint presentations, it’s fair to ask what can it do? More to the point, if Silverlight can’t do the job, Microsoft has an obligation to its users to provide native Flash export. As we approach 2010, efficient online delivery isn’t a niche requirement, it’s absolutely central to PowerPoint’s mission to communicate.
Things might not be as bad as they look. Recently I received a press release from Electric Rain announcing the launch of Convexion, an add-on for converting PowerPoint 2007 presentations to Silverlight. I haven’t been able to try it myself yet but it’s clear that, with Convexion, Silverlight-based online (and offline) delivery of presentations is indeed possible as well as WPF-based desktop delivery. Even better, when I visited the website today I saw that Microsoft has licensed the technology.
It looks as if Microsoft is going to provide PowerPoint to Silverlight capabilities in some format then – but I’m still left baffled and concerned.
To begin with, I can’t see why Microsoft should be relying on a third-party for such a core technology. Online delivery isn’t just crucial for PowerPoint, it’s even more important for Silverlight. At the moment Microsoft’s main requirement with Silverlight is to close the gap on Flash regarding player penetration (around 97% for Flash to around 33% for Silverlight according to today’s figures at riastats.com). What better way could Microsoft drive Silverlight take-up than by enabling the millions of PowerPoint users to open up their presentations to anyone with an internet connection? I really can’t believe that Microsoft has somehow failed to spot this massive opportunity.
There’s another concern. On the Electric Rain site it provides an example of a Ray Ozzie presentation converted to Silverlight. It’s fine as a proof of principle of online Silverlight delivery but there’s a fundamental problem. The size of the native PPT is under 900K and the size of the XAP is over 4MB! And that’s without any videos or photos.
I sincerely hope that this is a problem with Convexion rather than Silverlight. It certainly could be as plenty of the first PowerPoint to Flash converters wastefully rasterized slides rather than recreating them as web-efficient vectors. However it’s hardly reassuring.
PowerPoint should be the perfect partner for Microsoft to demonstrate Silverlight’s strengths; currently it’s only exposing the weaknesses of both.
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