First Impress-ions

The people at Digital Workshop ( clearly have their eyes on this market and Opus Presenter 04 is the firm’s latest attempt to address it. Digital Workshop is a British company and clearly has a good idea of what’s needed to tempt people away from PowerPoint. I’d love to be able to give it a ringing endorsement and encourage anyone creating presentations to switch to Presenter. I’d love to, but I can’t quite… yet.

First Impress-ions

Present but not Correct

On the face of it, Presenter offers all the right features. It has a built-in brainstorming tool called the QuickBuild Brainstorm Editor, which allows you to type up your ideas in one of two ways: either type them directly into a structural pane at the top, or just chuck them down using the freeform editor below. In theory this is a fantastic idea as it allows you to type in ideas as they occur to you, rather than trying to work out their sequence first. You then drag-and-drop the ideas into sequence at your leisure. The problem is that, on my PC at least, this simply doesn’t work properly. I spent ages typing up my presentation, dragging it into the sequential view and then, finally, clicking OK to have it converted to slides. Nothing happened. I tried again and this time it seemed to have worked, except that when I changed slides the text was lost and replaced with ‘Click here to add text’. Sometimes I can get it to work, sometimes it loses everything I’ve typed, but given that there’s no option to save my work separately to the Opus file I need to be absolutely certain that it will import properly.

The underpinning codebase works well enough: it’s essentially the same as that used for Opus Pro without support for scripting. Opus Presenter is an extremely capable entry-level authoring tool in its own right and a bargain at £99.95 (inc VAT), but these features, which have specifically been added to entice PowerPoint users away, simply don’t work reliably enough, for me at least. Having said that, Digital Workshop has a good track record in responding to bug reports and I don’t doubt that these problems will have been fixed by the time you read this. Indeed Paul Harris, MD of Digital Workshop, tells me that a service pack is on the way to fix them (it seems they’re caused by errors in the templates provided). I still can’t give the product an unqualified endorsement at present, but I’ll let keep you updated in my next column.

In any case, whichever tool you use to create your presentations – PowerPoint, Opus Presenter 04, Mediator, Impress or one of the high-end authoring packages – the quality of the result depends more on the creative decisions you make than on the capabilities of the software itself.

Faster, fitter, leaner

On October 22 2004, Macromedia’s chief software architect, Kevin Lynch, demonstrated the next version of the Flash Player at the Macromedia Flash Conference in Tokyo. This next iteration of the ubiquitous Flash Player takes a very different approach from recent versions. Flash Players 5, 6 and 7 concentrated on extending the Flash feature-set to make it the best all-purpose web development tool around. In other words, Macromedia has spent recent years courting web programmers and developers, and through them the end users of Flash applications. Flash has moved away from its roots as an animation tool, and performance has suffered as a result. Indeed, Macromedia has liked to emphasise that Flash has always been about the size of the Flash Player, not its speed – until now. With version 8 of the Flash Player, Macromedia is targeting the end user directly. For the first time, the difference between a movie running in the Flash 7 player and one running in Flash 8 will be visually obvious.

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