PowerPoint's scalability problem

PowerPoint's scalability problem

Summary: PowerPoint may be the go-to presentation tool for professional presenters and educators. But if you have a ton of slides, Microsoft does very little to help out — except remove a few helpful features.

TOPICS: Microsoft

To most people, PowerPoint is a necessary evil. But to some people and organizations who do a lot of presenting and teaching, PowerPoint is a core resource. Unfortunately, while PowerPoint is still the reigning champion of presentation tools, it has one very serious problem: it doesn't scale well.

By scalability, I mean the ability to manage a large amount of slides and presentations. I produce a few thousands slides a year across many different presentations. When you just have a few presentations, or just the main corporate deck, it's no problem. But when you want to find an image or graphic you constructed using PowerPoint's excellent shape tools, you have to open all those files and scan through them.

The same problem occurs if you want to pull a certain sets of slides and reuse them, or reapply them with a different layout or style. You have to open old presentations, dig through them, find the slides, and move them into the new presentation.

It gets old.

There are a few commercial tools for managing PowerPoint slides, but they either require an appointment with a salesperson (nope, not happenin') or they seem pretty scruffy, as if they were built back in 2004 using Visual Basic and just updated once in a while.

Speaking personally, I'm not going to invest days of my time to pump all my slides and graphics into what is likely to be an unsupported Visual Basic project where I might not be able to get them back out.

Now, the astute reader might note that PowerPoint is part of Office and Office is part of the Office 365 offering from Microsoft, which also includes things like OneDrive, OneNote and SharePoint. Therefore, the astute reader might think that there would certainly be some sort of sophisticated slide collaboration and management service provided by Microsoft for such a high-profile application as PowerPoint.

You'd think so. And you'd be right. If you lived in the last decade. No longer.

It turns out that SharePoint had a feature called the SharePoint Slide Library. It was discontinued after SharePoint 2010. Why? It's another one of those many Microsoft mysteries we're always discussing. All evidence seems to imply it was a pretty useful feature. You might also recall the image library feature that PowerPoint once had. Yeah, that's gone, too.

So there you go. That's PowerPoint's scalability problem. Right now, I've jammed all of my presentations into one whoppingly-huge PPTX file and sometimes it actually opens (and I have bus flash storage and 32GB of RAM). It is a way of sometimes flipping through my slides to find one I need, but it's far from reliable or pleasant.

Isn't it high time that Microsoft release a supported, reliable PowerPoint library function that had granularity down to the shapes and SmartArt level? I'd like to see something we could rely on and share enterprise-wide, but is also accessible to lone creative professionals.

What do you think? Do you have big slide libraries that could use some help?

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topic: Microsoft


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Death by PowerPoint

    @DavidGewirtz - You're the "loud 20" part of the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the users use 20% of a product's capabilities with no complaints, while 20% of the users use at least 80% of its capabilities with complaints.

    However, your job is to capture eyes for advertisers so fools like me can comment and argue with other commenters, who also likely don't manage thousands of slides, yet love a debate when it comes to a Microsoft product.
    David Addison
    • Guides

      It is that small 20% that identifies needs and pushes a product forward. As the 80% users become more experienced they put more demands on a product. When they get stuck they listen to the 20%. If you do not maintain the 80/20 ratio then someone else will come up with a product that replaces yours.

      I probably only use 20% of the features in power point. I have been using Power Point for it seems like 20 years. I do not give talks that often but still I have built a large library. David Gewirtz describes a need I have run into several times.
    • The complaints in the article are fair complaints

      made by someone who would make use of the desired capabilities. They are reasonable things to articulate, as PowerPoint isn't just for making files, but doing actual presentations.

      A slide library has antecedents in other document creation tools... I remember Quark XPress had a nifty library feature that quickly let you bang off graphics of a type. I certainly used.

      I expect that would be even more handy with presentations, where certain concepts might come in your talks often enough to merit a spot in a slide library.

      Anyone who does any amount of public speaking might want this. Hardly a niche ask.
  • Typical MS strategy

    I am not a MS hater -- they have a strategy that has worked so far -- be the best there is in a category, but no better than that. In this case, you state clearly, PP is the reigning king. So long as MS has no competition, why expend resources to improve it. That has always been their MO. They made Excel a little better than Lotus. They made Word a little better than Write. They made PP a little better than ... whatever its alternatives are.

    A little better, gain the market, and that's it for them.
    • "but no better than that"

      seriously? whenever I try to find a cheaper alternative, and I do that every time MS releases a major office update, I end up wasting a lot of time and paying for the upgrade. I don't care much about powerpoint but Word and Excel are not simply better that the competition, they are better by leaps and bounds in all respects, except one: price
      • Price is pretty good now

        The price is very good now. For what I was just paying for Dropbox, I can now get all the Office applications always up to date and a TB of on-line storage. How can you not like that?
        Buster Friendly
  • My guess

    My guess it was discontinued for the usual reasons - no one was using it. I would say doing thousands of slides a year that you ever want to look at again is a very unusual usage pattern. I would probably just create a document that's my dumping place for any objects I think I might want to re-use.
    Buster Friendly
    • I totally agree

      The concept of a CORPORATE PowerPoint management system sounds great. I can easily see a few HUGE corporations with HUNDREDS of folks who do presentations several times a week (corporate trainers, etc.) wanting a centralized system. If ANY do, they've probably had one written.

      But, realistically, there just aren't that many PP users with that sort of need.

      There is also a MORE BASIC issue -- how do you make IMAGES searchable? Sure, you could put each slide in a separate file and link to them from a database. But you would also have to go through all the hassle of entering descriptions and keywords NOT ONLY for EACH set AND EACH slide, but also for each IMAGE.

      I've seen plenty of database systems with all sorts of options to enter identification information about a particular document, file or other item. Just look at the huge number of file "details" Windows allows as metadata. But how many folks actually bother to fill out the fields such as artist, contributing artist, writers, white balance, billing information and the other 100+ "Details" available?

      And then again -- how many people have FOUR monitors, three in landscape and one in portrait mode? If you've got weird requirements, either write something yourself, hire somebody to write something, or make do with what is available.
      • ERP

        I think you're talking ERP in a situation like that. You've got a large base of people developing and delivering training, you need more than just organizing slides. You need to schedule all those people, ship materials, handling billing, etc. I would design a class database with versions of documents and software along with qualified teachers for that topic. Developers create versions of the classes on their own PCs and then upload them into the database for distribution. Then of course some tables to handle scheduling that hook into a receivable systems to make sure we get paid.
        Buster Friendly
  • Testify, brother!

    I've been complaining about a lack of slide management for YEARS. As a consultant, I make tons of decks on particular topics and depending on the audience, they get tweaked. Some content (especially diagrams ) are related but emphasize different things depending on what point I am trying to make.

    I have always had trouble managing slides and finding that one slide with a good idea from two months ago I did in a hotel room late at night and stored somewhere 'temporarily' so I wouldn't lose it.

    Please Microsoft -- Content Management for Powerpoint, please!
    • Yup, for 10 years I carried around a huge folder of old slide decks

      From which I'd harvest new presentations.

      My solutions was to have "master" decks for the key presentations and then spin the version for the upcoming ClientA presentation off the master. If I found something that needed updating, I'd update the master and ClientA. Not satisfactory, but it kinda-sorta worked. The other important thing was always to carry around all those old slides from every other presentation I'd ever given. It works a lot better now that storage is so huge/cheap/small.
  • Can't you copy files into an Access Database and then sort on those files

    Just a suggestion. Access doesn't scale well either but for a few thousand data objects, it should prove useful.

    Copy slides or just copy the graphic elements into a database. Add a few more column headings and this should manage your presentation elements adequately.
    • That would be my strategy as well

      Alternatively (if you didn't want to use Access) I suppose you could store each slide as it's own separate file and create tags for each (sort of a metadata-like approach) to aid in searching. Creating a new presentation would be a matter of inserting files. It would be clumsy, but perhaps workable.
    • Microsoft Access is available only on Windows

      I suspect that plenty of PowerPoint users run OS X. In David's case, he uses both OS X and Windows, so no problem.

      What would you recommend for OS X users that don't want to bother with Windows? Perhaps, Filemaker Pro?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • I would recommend FileMaker Pro as well

        As you know, I predominately use an Apple System and have had very good success with FileMaker Pro for OS X. I understand there is a Windows version of FileMaker but I have never used it. I have used Access in a Corporate environment, however. (It was a Rube Goldberg project. Our use for Access was as a "front end" query search engine to a Corporate IBM DB2 database.
    • Not Really Helpful...

      Access DOES scale, PP doesn't scale. Perhaps you have valid criticisms of the upward path of larger Access apps/databases, but mentioning that in this context is like comparing apples to hand grenades. (Been a serious Access developer for many years.)

      Moreover, using Access as a makeshift organizer isn't that good of an idea. The kind of mgmt tasks described by the author Gerwirtz seems that would require automated interpretation and extraction the content of PP files, not just managing their names or files. At least, that's how I read his comments....
  • Microsoft Listen Up ...We're with you, but we need you to provide the tools

    1000s of slides or hundreds, the same thing applies. Content requires a lot of work and to remove this ability is ...well it sounds like an accountant made the decision. I think not only should it be brought back but promoted as well.
  • The 80% rule = death of your product!

    While I don't have 1000's of slides, I too have been frustrated over the continual loss of features in Microsoft products. It seems that in their push to meet deadlines (especially since the Vista delivery delays fiasco), they have adopted the strategy of simply omitting features that are not ready by their deadline for product release.

    This results in product updates that are 80% of 80% of 80%... Consequently, their products are now half dead, and quickly approaching worthless. I long for the kind of results when Microsoft was determined to dethrone Quattro Pro, and put serious effort into making Excel better. If they continued that approach today, you wouldn't be complaining about PowerPoint. And their sales of Windows 8 would not be in the dumps.
  • have you tried HTML+CSS slideshow options?

    you can try a few like this:

    and I think that there was one html powerpoint replacement covered in the Developer newsletter here at ZDNET in the last year or so (I can not find it now or remember the title, but if someone does - I am searching for that text, so please help)
    I agree that it is completely different from PPT approach, but...
    a) your slideshows would be scalable as much as you want
    b) easy "template" changing or reusing by tweaking CSS and a few master pages
    c) resources can be stored in their native format (pictures, sounds, text...) and not packed inside *.ppt - if you gave them logical names you can search for them easily
    d) to play the show you only need a modern browser
    e) can be shared with others, cross-platform and no specialized programs needed
  • Powerpoint is old news....

    My kids are being taught to do presentations on a platform called Prezi. www.prezi.com. It's all web based, can be downloaded and run without the net connected. Is MUCH better at creating visually appealing presentations and easily imports video clips, web photos, etc. I use it now exclusively for my business presentations.

    Powerpoint is akin to the old Mappoint application. It was the bomb in the day, but those days are long gone.