Google Docs presentations: A beta is a beta is a beta

By now everyone has probably heard that Google finally released its long-discussed presentation webapp yesterday. Not too many surprises here: It's been rolled into Google Docs; it offers a nice set of basic features; but it's got a long way to go before it becomes the "Powerpoint killer" breathlessly anticipated by the mainstream tech media.

Like all of the productivity webapps under the Google Docs banner, the new addition offers a decent level of functionality for entry-level users; a fairly snappy web interface; and the opportunity for multiple users to collaborate online without having to forward a bunch of versioned attachments. It's also got a lot of the same problems as other Google apps: The auto-save function can be a little slow and annoying; power users are unlikely to find all the features they're looking for; and new features are often slow to come on a free, beta service.

Still, I gave it a whirl and found that I could create, collaborate, share and publish a set of slides quickly and easily. I may not be able to create cheesy transitions, but I can choose from several themes and upload my own images without a hitch. Playback was a little glitchy when large images were involved, but overall, this would be perfect for your typical class presentation or talking points for a staff meeting.

Between MS Office, iWork, OpenOffice and Google Docs, there hasn't been this much consumer choice in the productivity market since the early days of the PC explosion. It would be nice, however, to see a webapp that really challenged our tired assumptions about how presentation software worked - the same way Gmail's threaded conversations and instantaneous search rendered hierarchical folders and idiotic "advanced search" wizards obsolete. Maybe once all the big players have rolled out their "me, too" offerings, we'll start to see some real innovation.

To close, let me offer this disturbing/amusing 2005 news story I found when Googling the term "Powerpoint killer." For those without a Washington Post or BugMeNot login, let me point out that the lead to this article is "Did PowerPoint make the space shuttle crash?" Food for thought, and a cautionary tale for the folks in Mountain View.