Presentations are a curious thing.
Many people hate them with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Yet there are many who love experimenting with typography and color in their slides. Regardless of which team you’re on, you should know there are other options for presentations on Linux besides LibreOffice Impress. I’m not talking about online tools like Prezi, because this time the spotlight is on lesser-known desktop apps. They are lightweight, powerful, and different than what you’re used to.
The primary purpose of ffDiaporama is not creating presentations—it’s actually a movie creator application. While it’s relatively simple compared to other video authoring tools for Linux, ffDiaporama supports several effects and filters for images and animations, lets you add music to videos and combine several clips into one movie. The interface might seem daunting at first, but putting together a slideshow is not too hard.
If you try ffDiaporama, you’ll realize there is nothing stopping you from creating presentations with it. Instead of importing video, you’ll add text as Titles, and thanks to extensions like Texturemate and OpenClipart you can insert different shapes and backgrounds into slides.
ffDiaporama is particularly suitable for screencasts or multimedia-rich presentations, which can be rendered into one of many supported video formats, in Full HD or as a lighter video for smartphones and Web. Speaking of Web, ffDiaporama makes it possible to upload videos to YouTube or Dailymotion. You can install it from packages provided on the official website, or build it from source.
- Can create video presentations and slideshows with background music
- Offers more than a hundred transition effects
- The usage learning curve could be too steep
- Cannot import PowerPoint or Impress files
If you don’t want to give up Impress, but still want to try something new, Impressive is a good choice. Simply put, it’s a presentation post-processing tool. Create a presentation in whichever application you want, export it to PDF, then use Impressive to display it. This might seem counter-intuitive (or just plain superfluous), but Impressive has a few attractive features to impress you.
First of all, Impressive is super-lightweight and portable. It doesn’t require installation and you can take it anywhere on a USB stick. Furthermore, it doesn’t have an intrusive or complicated interface; in fact, it just runs from the terminal. Put your presentation in the same directory as Impressive, then type
./impressive.py PresentationName.pdf into the terminal, and start gliding through your presentation with either the keyboard (arrow keys, Space and Backspace) or the mouse wheel.
The main point of Impressive is to keep the audience focused on the important parts of your presentation. You can do this by drawing highlight boxes around parts of text with the mouse, zooming in with the Z key, or pressing Enter to activate the Spotlight which follows the cursor. When you need to jump to a specific slide or want to see all slides at once, access the Overview mode by pressing the Tab key.
Like any other command-line tool, Impressive can run with different options (switches) appended. For example, the
--auto-progress option shows a progress bar for the presentation, while
-f starts Impressive in windowed instead of full-screen mode. The complete list of options is available in the official documentation. There you will also find information on how to create a custom settings file for each presentation.
- Portable and cross-platform, easy to navigate
- Offers practical, attention-grabbing features
- Runs in the terminal, which might put off beginners
- Any configuration beyond the basics requires studying the manual
Of all the tools in this text, Calligra Stage is the one you’ve most likely heard of, since it’s a part of KDE’s office suite. Previously called KPresenter, Calligra Stage doesn’t have as many features as LibreOffice Impress, but it has a solid basic set of functions. You can use templates or make a presentation from scratch with custom slides, and there are several effects for slide transitions. Stage can work with Microsoft PowerPoint and MagicPoint presentations, but its default file format is ODF (or more precisely, ODP).
Apart from features you’d expect from a presentation tool (like slide navigation and organization), Stage lets you export presentations into fully functional HTML pages, which is great if you want to make a slideshow or design an interactive infographic. Stage makes use of view modes for different purposes, offering Normal View for editing slides, Notes View for adding notes to each slide, and Slide Sorter where you can reorganize, rename, remove or duplicate the slides.
You can also enable a docker (a sidebar within the Stage window) where you can see all slides as thumbnails, in a detailed list or in Minimal View mode. Finally, the Presenter View helps you control the flow of your presentation by displaying slide notes, a timer, and the current position in the presentation.
Stage can be installed as a standalone application, or you can grab the entire office suite from the repositories of most Linux distributions. Good news is that Stage is available for Windows and OS X as well, and even better news is that a special Calligra Gemini version with adaptive interface for tablets is in the works. You might wonder, are there any bad news?
Well, Stage (and the entire Calligra suite) is still in development; in fact, a new version came out a while ago. This means that features are still missing, especially in terms of tweaking Stage itself, as the configuration dialog is quite limited for a KDE application. Like in most other Microsoft Office alternatives, support for proprietary file formats in Calligra Stage remains to be improved.
- Handy view modes for better control over the presentation
- Innovative interface for tablets is in development
- Lacks application preferences and advanced features
- Importing PPT(X) files is not always satisfactory
What pdftk is to PDF files, SlideCrunch is to presentations. For users who are not allergic to the command-line, this tool is a great way to manage presentations. It can merge files (PDF or SVG) into a slideshow, separate a presentation into individual slides (images), and even create a slidecast with audio narration. If your presentation has notes, SlideCrunch can arrange them next to the slides to produce a neat handout.
SlideCrunch doesn’t require installation, although it does have a list of dependencies. Once those are satisfied, you can run it as any other executable script. However, it won’t do much for your presentation if you don’t specify the options in a separate text file called slideshow.txt. This file can contain cues for slide duration, notes for each slide, information about the author, and more. SlideCrunch can supplement your current presentation tool, but it can hardly replace a full-fledged application like Impress.
- Provides a quick way to merge or split presentations
- Practical for generating handouts
- Requires the use of terminal and a DIY configuration file
- Documentation is not novice-friendly
While Impress still reigns as the unbeatable alternative to PowerPoint, it might not be long before that changes. After all, new office tools are on the horizon, and small applications like the ones listed here already have their users. As they continue to improve, some of us might even start enjoying presentations.
Have you tried any of these apps or perhaps discovered other presentation tools for Linux? As always, you’re welcome to share your experiences and opinions in the comments.