Google Docs: Now with presentations

Google Docs just became a full-blown office suite

You could make a case that there's no such thing as a full-blown office suite that can't do presentations. And if that's true, Google Docs just became a full-blown office suite: As of Tuesday, it features the presentation features that CEO Eric Schmidt demoed back at Office 2.0 Expo in April. Google's going to formally unveil the new version today at TechCrunch40, but it's live now.

The browser-based service has also changed its name from Google Docs and Spreadsheets to just plain Google Docs. (Which is just as well--"Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations" would have been even more unwieldy than the name it already had.) The presentation features are also now part of Google Apps, the superset of Docs that also includes Gmail, Google Calendar, and other productivity tools.

The new features don't amount to a PowerPoint killer, or even a PowerPoint clone. Actually, you don't get a bunch of features which, until now, I wouldn't have thought of as optional in a presentation package, such as the ability to draw shapes, design your own templates, or create transitions.

But Docs' presentation features do let you import PowerPoint slides with adequate fidelity, and Google's Web-based collaboration features go beyond anything that Microsoft has put into PowerPoint. And that adds up to an interesting and useful service.

As with Docs' word processor and spreadsheet, its presentation tool pretty much looks like a somewhat streamlined desktop application that happens to live in your browser. In this case, that means that there's a thumbnail viewer for all your slides on the left, and a big editing window in the middle.

Like I said, calling the editing tools basic is probably paying them a compliment. You can add and format text, import graphics, shuffle slides around, and choose from fifteen pretty-basic canned themes. At leaat all the features work the way you'd expect, and work briskly--which isn't true of their counterparts in most other online presentation apps I've tried.

Things get interesting when your work involves more than one person. As with Google Docs' word processor and spreadsheet, you can invite other people--as long as they have Google accounts--to edit your presentations, which are, of course, stored on the Web. You can also give presentations across the Web, with everybody involved seeing the show as you give it.

Well, they may see it as you give it. Google has chosen to err on the side of freedom in options given to your spectators--they can jump around in your slides, or even take control of the show and become the person who decides when the slides advance. That's a pretty democratic approach, and while I'm not sure if I'd like it for my most important shows--I'm enough of a control freak that I don't even like to give people a printout of my slides for fear they'll peek ahead--it should work well enough for informal, internal presentations. (Which are the kinds of shows that Google says Docs' new presentation features are designed to handle.)

Oh, and when you give a show, everyone involved gets a chat window so they can discuss the slides as they pop up.

All of this collaboration is simple and straightforward, but it's powerful enough that I expect that some people might opt for doing free Docs presentations over using a for-pay Web conferencing service such as WebEx--at least in certain instances. If all you want to do is get some slides online, Docs may be all you need.

You can also publish a presentation so folks can watch it later. And just in case you want to do a traditional, in-person slideshow on a PC that might not be connected to the Internet, you can save all your slides as HTML within a Zip file, so you can load them and show them on any PC with a browser.

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