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Sway is a novel tool for building cloud based presentations. Sway offers a rapid design experience, focusing on the collation of images, text, and video, sourced from the web or your computer. It’s a canvas for your ideas, quick to create, and easy to share.
Sway is still in closed preview, but we were lucky enough to have been pulled out of the gigantic hat with a winning raffle ticket.
What Is Sway?
Sway is part of Microsoft’s Office Online collection. Unlike PowerPoint, a Sway presentation has no borders, page breaks or slides, transitioning seamlessly from idea to idea through a range of preordained styles and moods (more on these later). In that sense, it relates closely to PowerPoint and other presentation tools.
Here is Microsoft’s official video introduction to the platform:
Referring to your creation as a Sway seems odd, but I’m sure it is something that will grow on you and into its own verb with time.
Sway will work as an authoring app in the same mode as Word, Excel or PowerPoint, but with an increased emphasis on sharing, networking and content. Following the transition of Microsoft under the leadership of Satya Nadella, Sway fits right in, embracing their new(ish) ethos of “mobile first, cloud first,” operating as both an app and a service simultaneously.
Furthermore, there is already open talk of a native iOS Sway app, further expanding the once insular focused Microsoft into other ecosystems, further engaging users across the operating system spectrum.
Why Did Microsoft Create Sway?
PowerPoint is continually criticised for its stale, dusty environment. Meanwhile, web based contenders are on the rise. Prezi resides over an estimated 50 million userbase. SlideShare engages another 58 million individual users per month. That’s 108 million people Microsoft are hoping to attract with Sway.
What Does A Sway Actually Do?
Sway might be considered PowerPoint on pills, or Prezi on Ritalin – focusing the core attributes of an authoring, slide show presentation platform into a concise, cloud based, mobile friendly almost-WYSIWYG editor.
In other words, you edit the document, then preview. Edits are obscured from view, but you can see the content transition as you make amendments. You cannot edit the Sway directly, other than tweaking Showcase settings – read on for details!
Here are a couple of examples exploring the formatting, layouts and content curation available in Sway:
Formatting, Layout & Fonts
Sway is an all in one package. In its current preview state the range of layouts and fonts is restricted, though there are indications of the additional options that will be arriving.
Deciding whether to scroll your Sway vertically or horizontally is the user’s decision, depending on the content being delivered. Similarly, there are a number of fonts and styles available for the user to choose from, though this is currently limited, with other options labelled “coming soon,” including the intriguing “Hero”mode.
And all else failing, if your mind has been bled of design inspiration, Microsoft saw fit to include a “Remix” button. Once you have dropped your media, text and any links into your Sway, users can hit “Remix” to do exactly that – watch as Microsoft Sway redesigns your content. Keep hitting “Remix” and you experience the current range of sway’s capabilities.
Content is currently a mixed experience, as you would expect with a product still in private preview. At times, Sway performs admirably. Groups of uploaded pictures are automatically stacked and sorted, allowing you to alter the formatting of an entire section with a few deft clicks. All media types can be assigned under the Sway “Showcase” settings:
• Normal – 1 star
• More – 2 stars
• Most – 3 stars
Showcase settings are located under the star icon that appears next to each slide in the Sway. Each setting provides the selected content prominence in your Sway and is useful for altering the aesthetic flow of your Sway.
However, in terms of content curation there several issues. Dragging and dropping media is currently unsupported from external sources, though once the content is uploaded, you can move it around to your heart’s content. A number of potential images were horribly resized even before assigning a ‘showcase’ setting, rendering some unusable. This practice also distorts any text contained in an image and without any current guidelines for sizes (both pixels or file size) you may find your prized, 3 star showcase image is in fact a grainy, pixelated mess.
Sway is designed to be a mobile, cloud based power-tool. As such, the rollout to mobile devices has already begun, albeit only to users in New Zealand. Microsoft are isolating the mobile release of Sway before the grand rollout, which makes good business sense. New Zealanders who engage with the mobile app also grab themselves a free preview pass for the main article, so it could be worth our NZ based readers giving it a go – but don’t forget to report back on what you have found!
Here we have embedded a Sway developed by Microsoft, detailing their current plans for mobile rollout, the situation for NZ users and a few other titbits of information:
What Do We Think Of Sway?
Overall, this user was impressed. Sway holds an immediate appeal. Accessible content curation, design modifications and presentation features provide Sway the feeling of an instantly manageable platform for a number of activities: blogging, authoring, presentations, infographics, internal communications, reporting and much more.
Sways are stored in Microsoft’s Azure cloud. Photos can be added from and stored to a user’s OneDrive app. Mobility, functionality and productivity remain the goal of Satya Nadella’s Microsoft vision, evidenced through this clearly beta-stage product.
The lack of an undo feature, the lack of a document history, an absence of a native image editor and a surprising absence of Google or Bing image search remain an issue. Also, for the business or report minded amongst us, there is currently no support for tables or charts, or linking to database data. However, it is still early days for Microsoft Sway and there is evidently enough interest across the web to continue product development at a time when Microsoft is re-engaging with its innovative roots.
Have you used Sway? What were your impressions? Please share your Sways with us – we want to see your creations, too!