Free presentation software
There's nothing as boring as a bad Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Reams of dull slides projected in a darkened room is a pretty good recipe for a nap. But use it right, with engaging visuals which add to your narration rather than just replicating it, and PowerPoint can be a very effective way to get people's attention.
Notice, though, that PowerPoint has essentially become a synonym for digital presentation. Microsoft's package isn't the only way to get your slides on screen, but it's the most recognised one, and moving away from it for a free PowerPoint replacement is either going to mean maintaining compatibility with existing PPT files or some kind of special functionality beyond the standard dull slide deck formula.
The five packages we've selected here are our favourite in both categories; a couple of direct replacements, a pair of out-there alternatives, and one which straddles the middle ground. Whatever impact you're trying to make, these should help you without hurting your wallet.
1. WPS Presentation
Visually similar to PowerPoint with plenty of choice
Once known as Kingsoft Office, WPS is, in interface terms, about as close to Microsoft's office software as you're likely to find. Subtly ad-supported (you'll need to watch a brief ad if you want to perform certain functions), WPS Presentation has muscle enough in its familiar ribbon interface to perform just about every task you'd expect of a slideshow app.
It's fully compatible with PPT and PPTX files and incredibly stable, as you might expect from commercial software that's been around for this long. The range of templates on offer is particularly impressive. Kingsoft's online service, Docer, has been providing document templates in China for some time, and WPS Presentation integrates neatly with its English-language version to provide an absolute boatload of looks.
There's also a stack of animations, transitions and effects to choose from, and support for embedding numerous different file types including Flash SWF files and most video formats. While the 30-second ad breaks are a bit of a grind, the software itself is well worth a look.
2. LibreOffice Impress
A free open source choice that's almost as good as the real thing
LibreOffice Impress, has, er, impressive pedigree. It also has a raft of features and templates at its disposal. But don't make the mistake of thinking it's an exact PowerPoint analog.
Certain features of more modern PowerPoint versions aren't included (internet broadcast, collaboration, animated diagrams) though LibreOffice adds some pretty cool features of its own, like various export formats including SWF, import compatibility with Keynote files, and full support for embedding fonts in your presentations. Plus, of course, it's completely free open source software.
There's another benefit, too: you'll need to do some heavy work to get Office 2016 running on anything earlier than Windows 7, macOS versions prior to 10.10 or on Linux at all. But LibreOffice maintains compatibility right back to Windows XP, works with OS X 10.8 (or 10.5 thanks to unofficial builds) and supports whatever Linux flavour you might throw it at.
3. iCloud Keynote
Apple-grade finesse in a free online package
Apple's flagship presentation software is, we think, the best part of the suite formerly known as iWork, and it's free to anyone who owns a post-2013 Mac. But we think Keynote's best incarnation is the one that comes as part of its iCloud online app suite, mainly because anyone with an Apple ID - Mac, Windows or Linux - gets free access through a web browser.
It's a pretty good translation of the package, though it's a little closer to the iOS version than the desktop one. This means there are a few caveats you'll have to live with. Documents created with the full version sometimes include elements which aren't supported by the online version, and while you'll have no problem creating some very flashy presentations with the numerous 4:3 and 16:9 templates, the simplistic tools mean they won't match the complexity of those created by its desktop counterpart.
Eye-catching visuals with a light-hearted twist
If you've seen animated infographics online, you might already have an idea of what Powtoon can offer; it's perfect for creating video presentations slightly more lively and charming than the standard PowerPoint fare, with royalty-free music and eye-catching looks. Whether its blend of cartoony assets and sprightly animations is the right thing for you is another question.
Such frivolity may help you stand out, but it might single you out as a presenter who isn't taking things seriously. That said, Powtoon's dedicated Slides section provides a more traditional editor for making more straightforward slide decks, and anything you create there can be later tarted up in the Studio section.
It's all rather nice, although free Powtoon accounts can't download files for offline use and are restricted to a very limited asset selection and license - at US$19 (about £15, AU$30) per month, the full thing is probably going to look prohibitively pricey.
Slick, active presentations without traditional slides
Prezi's take on presentations is very different, since it does away with slide decks altogether in favour of a massive canvas. Cram it full of all your pertinent info, lock off views representing the most important areas, then zoom, twist, reveal and jump between them for a truly dynamic presentation.
It's all very special and next-generation, and it's certainly easy enough to get some brilliant looks out of Prezi's online tool, but there are some big downsides too. Primarily, the free edition makes all of your presentations public by default, presumably to discourage business users from exploiting the tool without paying for it.
There's a secondary negative too: many people, faced with Prezi's sometimes unpredictable movements, find themselves becoming somewhat seasick when watching particularly active presentations. So be careful with your movements, and watch a few of the advice videos on Prezi's website so you're sure you're doing it right.
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