Love them or hate them, presentations are typically a vital business tool when pitching for new sales. Thankfully, the Internet is proving a wonderful playground for a selection of powerful Web-enabled presentation applications that provide for every part of the presentation lifecycle?some can even be used on the desktop or on the browser, and whether you are online or offline.

To be fair, PowerPoint and others do a pretty nice job of letting you create presentations. Smart Art and path animation are great and there’s a good chance you’ve got a whole folder bulging full of PowerPoint presentations dated back to 1997. Hosted presentation software such as SlideRocket go further by integrating flexible authoring, intelligent asset management, and secure delivery tools in a single on-demand application. You can also measure the results, all in one integrated environment.

What is SlideRocket and who is it for?

SlideRocket is a Web-based presentation application aimed at traditional PowerPoint and Keynote users. However, unlike these two deskbound apps it can be run on any computer connected to the Internet without needing to install anything. SlideRocket was founded in 2006 with the vision of building a better presentation experience—one that provides for every part of the presentation lifecycle and helps you make great presentations that don’t send your audience to sleep.

The hosted application goes way beyond facilitating the creation of stunning presentations by allowing you to manage them intelligently, share them securely (minus live chat or telephony) and then measure the results. SlideRocket blows PowerPoint out of the water. And, if we dare to say it, makes presenting fun. What’s more, since it uses Flash and AIR, slides can be viewed offline (not available with free accounts).

Pricing & setup

SlideRocket is provided in a SaaS (software-as-a-service) model in a variety of price points?free, $15/month, and $30/month. The biggest difference between free and paid is the amount of storage allowed per account?250MB for free users and 1GB for paid users.

The highest priced paid account also allows multiple users and opens up SlideRocket’s impressive collaboration features, versioning, and Web conference app that allows slides to be shared with remote viewers. Paid plans include e-mail support, while phone support is available to all users for $49 per incident. Premium support with unlimited phone calls is offered to enterprise customers for 20% of subscription fees (at a $1500 minimum).

Registering for a SlideRocket account is a snap and you don’t need to enter payment details. After entering a few details, you’re then mailed an e-mail will a login URL and helpful links that guide you through your free 30-day trial and help you to experience everything that SlideRocket’s online presentation solution has to offer.

For instance, you can register to join a Web seminar for a 45-minute briefing and Q&A with a professional trainer, review the software’s documentation, or stay connected with what’s going on at SlideRocket by checking out the company’s blog. Our favourite link whisks you away to an online gallery, where you can get inspired by browsing stunning presentations from other SlideRocket users.

Does it do it well?

SlideRocket is the pinnacle of Web 2.0 coding. From start finish, the user experience is sublime. All major Web browsers are supported, but you need to make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash player installed on your computer (SlideRocket provides a download link).

SlideRocket goes beyond traditional presentation tools by harnessing the power of the Internet and making everything available to you in an integrated and intuitive online interface. It also includes an online marketplace where you can find all the content and services you might need to make your presentations great. Another add-on that’ll blow you away is the software’s partnership with online printing company Mimeo, allowing you to produce high quality binded hardcopies of your presentation—perfect for impressing potential customers at seminars.

The black interface is slick and all tools are intuitively displayed and easily accessible. The home page is where the fun stuff lives. Here you access your Presentation library (contains all presentations), Slide library (contains library slides and slide groups), Assets (items such as images, Flash files, videos, and audio that can be added to a slide), Themes (made from layouts, backgrounds and default styles), and Marketplace (where you can buy stock images, graphics, icons, cartoons and audio). The Help tab opens up SlideRocket documentation, help desk and forums, and the Account tab is where users and groups are created and managed.

A neat feature is the News Feed which shows important messages from SlideRocket and any new presentations, slides, assets or themes that have been shared, along with the list of the most recently edited presentations to which the logged-in user has access to.

Creating a presentation is a snap. You can either start from scratch or import a PowerPoint presentation into an editable SlideRocket presentation. SlideRocket even does the hard work of filing assets and master slides. Unfortunately, if you’re a Keynote user, SlideRocket doesn’t support your documents. The toolbar, located on the left-hand side of the canvas, lets you add elements to a slide’s canvas. Here you’ll find tools for adding text, pictures, video, Flash, shapes, charts, tables, and plug-ins.

All elements are input and editing just as you would in PowerPoint, including support for drag and drop. A really cool feature is the Slide Tray—a bar across the bottom of the screen where the slide thumbnails for the presentation are displayed.

If you are in the need of stock photography, you can access images from Fotolia and Flickr directly from within the interface. If you’re using other people’s Flickr photos, you can even restrict your search to those in the creative commons. Hopefully, the software will integrate with more stock photography sources in the future, along with the ability to access icons, templates, stock audio, fonts, and cartoons in the near future.

Dig deeper and SlideRocket starts to flaunt its potential. You can update the theme for the whole presentation at the click of a button, change the layout and background from default theme options, determine how slides will animate and advance when played, set the time before the slide advances to the subsequent slide, add audio to slides, and choose to hide slides when the presentation is played. Teams will appreciate the View Slide History, which shows all saved versions—you can select and revert to a previous version.

SlideRocket leaves PowerPoint standing when it comes to protecting and sharing presentations. Not only are your presentations stored securely online, make them much safer than having PowerPoint presentations saved on your computer or removable drive, but SlideRocket allows you to retain full control of your presentations.

Once a PowerPoint file has been e-mailed to a colleague or client, you have lost control of it. The recipient can send it to competitors, alter it, and even copy data. You also have no idea if they even opened it. SlideRocket’s invitation controls let you configure who can view and records what slides they viewed. Only e-mail recipients can view the presentation. You can also unshare a presentation at any moment for security.

The summary shows how many times the presentation has been viewed, how many people have viewed it and what was the average viewing time of the presentation. It also shows the average time spent on each slide?perfect for catching slackers!

A time saver is that when you change information on a slide—say, if you’ve made a date mistake—the presentation is updated in real time and all those viewing it will see the updated file. You don’t have to worry about the recipient not having the right fonts or video codecs installed on their PC either. SlideRocket can also be used for a remote meeting, allowing users to share a presentation with an audience over the Net.

Where does SlideRocket disappoint?

As a design tool, SlideRocket lacks a lot of what the standard tools have, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (remember the whole ease of use versus features debate?) The biggest problem we encountered was when importing PowerPoint presentations. Font sizes were not respected and it also had difficulty with text inside drawing objects. Though the font was preserved, it too was reduced in size.

The lack of instant typing, screen sharing or audio tools (you’ll need to use a phone or Skype to speak to your audience) are also major limitations. Empressr, Zoho Show and Vyew also have SlideRocket beat on the social side, but it’s an almost unfair comparison since SlideRocket has more of a business angle than the rest.

Would we recommend SlideRocket?

SlideRocket is a dazzling example of hosted software done right. Beautifully designed, well supported and boasting a great mix of features and ease of use, it’s a great choice for any individual or small team looking for a slick way to create and distribute slideshows. In addition to the fact that dispersed teams can work on the same presentation, the biggest benefit of SlideRocket is the ability to present with your audience, located anywhere.

The ability to embed full-featured slides in a Web page, a fail-safe mechanism when presenting on the road, integration with online services such as Fotolia and Flickr, along with security and reporting tools, make SlideRocket one of the best programs of its type. Our advice is to give it a spin and try out the things you’re used to doing in PowerPoint. You may find that even the free version of SlideRocket is more than capable of letting you build a good-looking presentation with a minimal amount of effort.