Adobe has gone public with Presentations, cloud-based presentation graphics built with Flash and the Acrobat.com portal. It runs in Firefox 3.x, IE 6 or higher, or Safari 3.x or higher, on Windows or Mac, provided that the latest Flash Player 10 is installed. No mention of Linux though it might work.
Presentations is up against two obvious rivals: Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Docs. Why use Adobe Presentations? Adobe is highlighting the advantages for collaboration: no need to email slides hither and thither. You can use PowerPoint on collaborative servers like SharePoint, but it’s still a point well made. A free account on Acrobat.com is far easier to set up and manage. The Flash UI is elegant and easy to use, and while it lacks all the features of PowerPoint, it seems to cover the essentials pretty well. You can insert .FLV (Flash Video) files which enables all sorts of interesting possibilities. At first glance, Adobe Presentations seems to be way ahead of Google Docs, with transitions, themes, colour schemes, opacity control, and general Flash goodness.
It’s good, it’s free: does Adobe have a winner? I can see a couple of problems. One issue is that people are nervous about relying on a live connection to the Internet during a presentation. Given that conferences and hotels often have wifi connectivity issues, that’s not an irrational concern. Presentations does have a solution, which is export to PDF, but nevertheless Adobe has to overcome that instinctive reaction: cloud-based presentations? No thanks. Having PDF as the sole export option is restrictive too; it would be great to see PowerPoint import and export, but I suspect it is too tightly wedded to Flash for this to work.
As Mike Downey observed on Twitter, it is also a shame that you cannot embed a presentation into a web site, though of course you could include a link.
Presentations has a lot in common with Buzzword, the Acrobat.com word processor, which does not seem to have taken off despite its strong features. Will this be different? Potentially, but Adobe needs to work on public perception, which is Microsoft for offline, Google for online.
I reckon Adobe would gain substantially by adding AIR support to Acrobat.com. This makes obvious sense for both Buzzword and now Presentations. Users would have the comfort and performance of local files, plus the collaborative benefits of online. Why not?