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Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Putting PowerPoint on the Web

Get your PowerPoint on the web using these simple techniques.

Often, a company or individual will want to make their PowerPoint presentations available to the general public via the Web. This article will investigate three tactics for translating content between these two mediums, including PowerPoint’s ability to export a slideshow as HTML and an excellent third-party solution.

Before anything, you’ll need a web server to place your files. If you already run a website, or if you have someone else running your website (like your company’s IT person), you’re good to go. There are numerous free hosting services, chief among them Yahoo’s Geocities, which are fairly simple to set up. All the HTML is automatically generated, so unless you want to customize the web pages, you won’t need to know any complicated web technology, so don’t worry.

Save, Drop and Link

This method is simple, but inelegant. Save your PowerPoint file, drop it on your server, and link directly to it. Your link would look something like this: http://www.yourdomain.com/yourfile.ppt.

The “PPT” extension is important because it tells the browser this is not a normal HTML file and cannot be opened like a web page; instead, when anyone types in the URL, the file should load in PowerPoint. If the user does not have that program, they will need to install the PowerPoint 2003 Viewer, which is a free download from Microsoft’s site.

Since it cannot be assumed your audience will own a copy of PowerPoint, or even be willing or able to install the viewer, this is a cumbersome way to distribute your file. Also, since the slides have not been optimized for the web, your presentation will retain the full file size, which will be considerable if there are many graphics.

Export HTML

PowerPoint’s ability to export a presentation as HTML files is a much better way to get your material on the web. Although more elegant than the first method, it is still fraught with noticeable deficiencies, and can backfire with anyone not using Internet Explorer.

First, save your presentation. Then, go to File > Save As Web Page. At this point, you could easily just hit “Save” and be done with it; PowerPoint will create the HTML page and source files that will work perfectly in Internet Explorer. But if you try to load this page in any other browser such as Netscape, Opera or Mozilla Firefox, you’ll get an error caused by proprietary filters Microsoft employs in the conversion.

To circumvent this, File > Save As Web Page and click the button “Publish.” This will bring up a new dialog. In the second section titled “Browser Support,” click the second radio button, which supports IE or Netscape 3.0 or later. This code is cleaner and retains all functionality except for full-screen mode.

screenshot of lower browser support

Despite the cross-browser compatibility, PowerPoint’s HTML is still pretty bad. It sets everything in frames, which means your audience cannot bookmark any one slide; setting a bookmark will just bring them back to the first slide. Also, because of the heavy use of JavaScript and frames, the pages are completely inaccessible to disabled web surfers. (For more information about designing accessible websites, please visit Mark Pilgrim’s excellent Dive Into Accessibility website.)

A True PowerPoint to Web Solution

As so often happens, it took a third-party to develop the tool PowerPoint should have had from the beginning. In this case, the University of Illinois has built an extremely versatile add-in called the Accessible Web Publishing Wizard, which gives any Microsoft Office application the ability to export data as standard, non-proprietary HTML.

Specifically, the tool converts your PowerPoint into five unique HTML pages:

  1. Text Only Version (slides with only text, but contains links to images)
  2. Text Mostly Version (slides with text and graphics, but no backgrounds)
  3. Graphic Version (reproduction of actual PowerPoint—full text and graphics)
  4. Outline Version (one long page with all the outline notes)
  5. Handout Version (formatted for printing)

None of these use any type of JavaScript, frames or proprietary filters; they are pure HTML that can be viewed in any browser on any platform and are completely accessible to all manner of users, from your visually impaired neighbor to the guy on a dial-up modem. In addition, the pages load much quicker, any slide can be bookmarked and the author can change the entire look by tweaking a few lines in the CSS file.

(I am not employed by or affiliated with the University of Illinois in any way, but I should tell you that the software costs $39.95 with a limited-functionality demo available. Money well spent, in my opinion, since it also works with Word and Excel.)

Conclusion

Translating PowerPoint to the Web is not difficult at all, but there are definite best practices to consider. While Microsoft’s tool does an adequate job of slapping together some mediocre and outdated code that can work, U of I has produced a truly great product that generates markup that can not only be read by anyone on any browser, but is future-proof in its simplicity.

commentary + criticism

Christy Blew

wrote the following on Tuesday January 3, 2006

I wanted to say thank you for reviewing the Accessible Web Publishing Wizard for Microsoft Office. I am a member of the Wizard staff here at the U of I and have been reviewing the places that have taken the time to review our software. I would like to ask permission to use your comments about the Wizard. Your website notes Copyright Kevin Potts, is this the individual I should attribute credit to for this article? For your information, we released a new version of the Wizard in October 2005 with another version planned to be released early spring 2006. I look forward to hearing from you.