January 30, 2008

Sun Presentation Minimizer serves purpose, but needs work

Author: Bruce Byfield

Sun Presentation Minimizer (SPM) represents free software's answer to PPTminimizer. Designed for OpenOffice.org 2.3 or StarOffice 8 Impress and released under the Lesser GNU General Public License, SPM is an extension that creates a wizard that guides you through reducing the size of your presentation, making it easier to transport and, on some systems, quicker to run. Those who present large slide shows -- especially graphics-heavy ones -- will find it a well-designed and effective addition, although several features require more work.

Like other extensions, SPM installs using Tools -> Extension Manager, where it can be added to the profile for the current user account or to all accounts on the system. Should you install it from the StarOffice 8 CD, as I did, you can open the index.html file in the CD's root directory in your Web browser and have its scripts download the file and install it for you, although you might hesitate for a second over the instructions to use the nonexistent install.html file.

After installation, when you open a slide show in Impress, you will find a floating window and an item in the Tool menu for SPM. Clicking either opens a wizard similar to the initial one in Impress, with a menu on the left and detailed instructions on the right. No online help is available, despite a button that opens a blank help screen for you.

Right away, you are likely to miss the help, because the first choice in SPM is which of three levels of optimization you want. You can probably figure out that "Screen optimized" is the lowest resolution and "Print optimized" is the highest, but the exact settings represented by these sets only become clear after you go through the wizard a few times. Nor, until you get to the wizard's last screen, do you have any sense that you can create your own set of optimization choices.

With the next step of the wizard, SPM settles down to work. On the Slides screen you have the option to delete unused master slides and hidden slides. If you use notes to help you design your presentation and not to keep your speaking notes with the slides, you can delete them here. If you have designed custom slides using Slide Show -> Custom Slideshow, another option is to delete slides not used in the custom show.

On the Graphics screen, you can reduce the size the most. If you choose JPEG compression rather than lossless compression, you can adjust the image quality. With either choice, you can leave the image resolution unchanged or set it to 90, 150, or 300 dpi -- a setting which turns out to be the largest difference between the three initial optimization sets from which you are asked to choose at the start of the process.

The Graphics screen also includes options to delete cropped areas from graphics, and to break the links to external graphics. Since breaking the links stores the graphics within the saved presentation file, it can be a handy way to minimize the number of files of which you need to keep track. However, if you break links, Edit -> Links does not reflect the change until the next time you open the presentation. If you're not aware of that, you might easily conclude that the setting doesn't work.

The next set of choices lets you create static versions of OLE Objects, which means that the objects will no longer be updated when the linked file changes. In GNU/Linux, this screen might puzzle you at first, since OLE is a Windows technology. However, matters should become clearer when you realize that StarOffice and OpenOffice.org refer to a file embedded in another as an OLE Object in the Insert -> Object submenu -- even though it technically isn't. A corollary is that the choice to simplify all OLE Objects or only those that do not refer to an Open Document file is generally going to be the same choice, although you just might be linking to a 1.x OpenOffice.org file, the standard format before the office suite switched to Open Document. But for now, don't be concerned either way, because using SPM with an embedded OpenDocument file consistently crashed it on all three of my test installations.

The last screen is the Summary. It does, in fact, list how many objects will be affected by your choices, and how much space you have saved. However, since file sizes are listed in megabytes, you have to have large slide shows before the summary registers any change in file size.

Despite the name, the Summary screen also gives you two additional choices. By default, SPM saves to a duplicate file, although you can change the setting to overwrite the original. If you have changed the defaults for one of the three levels of optimization, you can also create a custom optimization set for later use. In your impatience to create a minimized file, don't overlook these two useful items.

Pressing the Finish button produces the minimized file in a matter of seconds. Even a monster 4GB file was ready in less than 15 seconds. Your space savings will depend chiefly on the number of objects in your presentation, and the settings for compression and resolution. If you sever the links to graphics, you could even gain size, since the graphic then becomes part of the presentation file. However, with graphics-rich files, the saving can be substantial, with newly minimized files ranging from 20-6o% the size of the original. On large files, this saving could determine whether your presentation fits on a flash drive or CD.

Sun Presentation Minimizer is useful enough that those who regularly create slide shows will probably want to add it. However, its lack of help means that beginning users may be unaware of the consequences of the choices they make (in particular, the fact that, the more space saved, the lower the print quality), and, in matters like the handling of so-called OLE Objects, it seems in need of more testing.

Since this is the second Sun-built extension I've reviewed that seems a little rough -- the first was the Sun Weblog Publisher -- I have to wonder about the quality control that goes into Sun's efforts in this direction. Admittedly, these are both relatively complex exyensions, yet if extensions from the community are rarely so unfinished or unreliable, why are Sun's?


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