A Look at PowerPoint Alternatives for Your Next PresentationPowerPoint, Microsoft's presentation tool, was once ubiquitous as the business standard for organizing, distilling and demonstrating business ideas. Now, PowerPoint has far more competition. The Web has sparked a brisk market in alternatives for presenting your next big idea.

And we spent about a month distilling the best among the new offerings in online presentation systems. Here are four worth knowing.

Google Docs Presentations
Google DocsWhat it is: Google Docs, part Google Apps' set of Web-based tools, contains a presentation-building tool which is both simple and powerful. Similar to Google's document-sharing capability, users can create, edit and collaborate over the Web on what are usually basic slideshow presentations. Slides can be shared, published, embedded in a website or posted online for mass consumption. Microsoft PowerPoint presentations from your computer can also be uploaded into Google Docs Presentations

What you might like: It's easy and free. Even if your company doesn't have its own paid Google Apps account, any person with a Gmail account has access to this presentation function at no charge. Hardcore Windows users will miss PowerPoint's luxurious features like powerful graphics tools, easy to use animation features and myriad type styles, but even beginners can muddle through Google Docs Presentations to create professional-looking presentations.

What you might not like: The tool's features are limited. While art, audio, sophisticated graphics and even full motion video can be linked from elsewhere on the Web, doing so requires a good grasp of Google Presentations' inner workings, which aren't as easy to master as they may first appear.

We found it usually made sense to do complex presentations elsewhere.

SlideRocket
SlideRocketWhat it is: For a full-featured, Web-based presentation builder, SlideRocket is the ticket. The online tool offers the same capabilities found in Google's presentation tools, but with many premium features. Slideshows as well as slide libraries can be shared between users in a company's SlideRocket account. Media and images can be stored and placed in more than one company presentation, where they can be used again without collaborators having to go searching for them. A stripped-down version is free. Versions with features such as the ability to share and view presentations offline start at $24 per user per month.

What you might like: A rich set of design tools lets users create visually impressive slides with a reasonable investment of time and effort. Slideshows can include video and audio voice overs. There are also a number of features that go beyond presentation building. The Pro Version has an online meeting function as well as an analytics tool quantifying how viewers interact with user slideshows.

What you might not like: SlideRocket requires a lot of work. Yes, it is a powerful presentation builder, but the average user is likely to need a commitment to learning it. If you have dedicated presentation developer, SlideRocket is a good bet. But for the average presentation, SlideRocket may not be worth the effort.


Prezi
PreziWhat it is: Prezi offers a different approach to building online presentations. Rather than a series of traditional slides, Prezi's Web-based tool works from a single canvas where you insert elements such as text, images and video and then link them together to create visual storylines. A Prezi presentation starts as this mash of text, images and video and then zooms in on each cluster of connected ideas, topics and other media in the order determined by the user. If the tool sounds a little offbeat, it is. The basic tool is free. Paid versions start at $59 per year, and offer such features as personalized company branding, improved privacy settings so only those in your group see it, and you can work offline. 

What you might like: Prezi forces users to think about their presentations in sum and then visually diagram them with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get design tool. We found it easy to create nontraditional looking presentations. For example, connecting a series of facts on one slide to another would be tough to do with a more conventional tool like PowerPoint. And we liked a tool called the "Zebra," which is basically a big cursor that allows for easy editing of complex elements. If you want to kick-start your demonstration ideas, Prezi is your choice.

What you might not like: The unique Prezi presentation system will require buy-in from your team since it asks them to think about their presentations, and their ideas, not as a series of static, fact-filled slides, but a sequence of stills culled out of a larger visual theme. That means committed PowerPoint users could be Prezi haters. Plus, the sweep of Prezi tends to make presentations, how shall we say, "ambitious" because Prezi prompts users to think in a larger scale and then gives them powerful tools to present that large idea at full scale. So big ideas tend to get really big in Prezi. Plan on aggressive editing and review of Prezi content to keep it on message.


SlideBoom
SlideBoomWhat it is: SlideBoom offers an easy-to-use hosting service for PowerPoint users looking for a simple way to share their presentations online. SlideBoom converts PowerPoint presentations into Flash files which can be shared with others or embedded into a website. The service is free for uploading and sharing up to 100 presentations. The PRO Account, which runs $195 per year, includes up to 500 presentations and includes more options for embedding and sharing statistics showing how many people have viewed your slide shows.

What you might like: SlideBoom is a quick and easy way to get your PowerPoint presentations from your computer onto the Web. It works with multiple PowerPoint versions, from 2010 all the way back to 2000. If you want to get that old PowerPoint where everyone can see it, and you don't want to learn anything new, SlideBoom works.

What you might not like: SlideBoom provides a nothing more than basic public Web link that shares your presentation. The bland page containing your slides can have advertisements, though ads-free slideshow channels can be branded for your company using a paid account. If a small-business owner is looking for a rich online experience for a presentation, SlideBoom isn't likely to be the best choice.