Presentation software sucks – introducing …

How many dull presentations have you been to where the presenter simply reads bullet points off slides?

FrobSoft Express 2.0 is:

  • up to 5% faster
  • supports Windows
  • XML enabled!

I’m giving a talk about libguestfs on 18th March and I hate reading out slides to people as much as I hate listening to presenters reading out slides to me. In every talk I’ve given in the last few years I have tried to keep my notes separate (written on paper in front of me, or memorized) from what is on the slides. Presentation software, such as the mighty, all-pervasive OpenOffice, doesn’t make this easy. Nor does it make it easy to demonstrate software in the middle of your talk. You end up having to switch away to another virtual desktop, where (hopefully) you’ve remembered to set up some xterms “su”‘d to root and “cd”‘d into the right directory. I usually need several virtual desktops set up like this so I can demonstrate different parts of the software, so I’m standing in front of an audience using [Alt][←] and [Alt][→] while I hastily try to remember which virtual desktop has the next stage of the talk.


Introducing “Tech Talk”. Actually, Tech Talk is too generic in Google, so we brainstormed adding extra words on the end until it became unique: Introducing “Tech Talk Platinum Supreme Edition!” (Tech Talk PSE).

The concept is simple. You create a directory and drop a mixture of HTML files and shell scripts in there:

$ ls
$ techtalk-pse

When Tech Talk PSE runs, it sorts the files numerically, and then displays the HTML ones (using Mozilla embedding) as slides and runs the shell script ones. Next and previous keys move through the slides, ensuring that your demonstrations [the shell scripts] run automatically at the right place in the talk.

Only files matching ^\d+(-.*)\.(html|sh)$ are considered, everything else is ignored. So you can style your HTML using stylesheets, include READMEs and Makefiles, and move common shell functionality into sourced shell files:

#!/bin/bash -
# Source common functions and variables.
source functions
# Pre-populate the shell history.
guestfish -a vm.img
# Open gnome-terminal.
exec $TERMINAL --geometry=+100+100

Tech Talk PSE itself doesn’t have to deal with rendering, which is pushed off to a browser, making it far more flexible, powerful and simpler than existing presentation software. This means you can show figures or play video in your presentation, or use Javascript to make your slides resolution-independent or to add animations. Additionally you can use any existing tool you want to write HTML. (If you’re like me, that tool will be emacs.)

You’ll be able to download Tech Talk PSE after my talk in two weeks time, or get early previews from my git repository. Requirements are Perl, Perl Gtk2 and Gtk2::MozEmbed.


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7 responses to “Presentation software sucks – introducing …

  1. Just a suggestion, but it’d be really handy if it also took image files. Sounds pretty handy, though.


    • rich

      Yes, pretty easy to add. But I wonder if it’s not just as easy to write:

      <img src=”foo.jpg”>

      It’s possibly better to “force” people to use a tiny fragment of HTML here, because it means that the images will be styled with CSS as well as text (assuming they use an HTML template that includes the CSS).

  2. Fred

    This look interesting :
    “S5: A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System”

    A quick look around google shows quite a few attempts at better slideshows, some even OSS.

    • rich

      Sure, I’ve even used S5. It doesn’t let you run programs during the presentation. In fact the only thing it really solves is a non-problem — how to run your presentation when you don’t have the original software around, just a web browser. But I travel with my laptop, and if I don’t have my laptop then I cannot demonstrate the software, so the presentation isn’t going to happen at all under those circumstances.

      Edit: long list of Linux presentation software for comparison.

  3. Pingback: Tech Talk PSE, now a bit usable « Richard WM Jones

  4. Dan

    Yesterdays libguestfs talk was very good. TechTalk PSE was equally as interesting as the talk itself!

    Will you be offering other editions. Super Dupa Fantastic Edition, or perhaps Enterprise Money Make Pro Edition.

    • rich

      Unfortunately not “Enterprise Money Make Pro”. It’s not “Enterprise” enough because it’s not Written In Java(TM). And we prefer to make money the old fashioned way — supporting them in using a great free product, rather than arbitrarily denying them stuff unless they cough up cash.

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