Harvard Graphics. (presentation software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Daniel Greenberg
There's an old saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. You won't need a second chance with the help of Harvard Graphics; it puts flashy graphics power in the hands of nongraphically oriented users.
One of this program's best features is its interface. From the customizable icon bar to the graphical dialog boxes, the interface is more than easy to use; it's actually convenient. You can create different icon bars by adding, deleting, and rearranging the toolbar icons; editing commands are simplified and streamlined; the often-neglected right mouse button is used to pull up menus appropriate to the current task; and dialog boxes dealing with graphics actually use graphics to show their purpose. Even better, the dialog boxes are visually interactive and show previews of planned changes before you alter your presentation.
Unfortunately, all Windows programs seem to be afflicted with icons whose functions are impossible to guess - and Harvard Graphics is no exception. For example, the Open Symbol Library icon is a picture of a truck. How intuitive. But at least when you pass the pointer over an icon, its function ears in the title bar on top of the screen in a font that's readable even in high screen resolutions. Adding to the overall usefulness of the interface is context-sensitive help in the form of an onscreen Advisor column, a five-minute coach tutorial, and full OLE support.
Presentations are built around presentation styles - master templates that maintain a unified visual style throughout the entire slide show by making sure every screen has a similar look and feel. There are 31 of these styles and 12 different slide types within each. The slide types contain 88 options, from different cover page layouts to bar graphs to organizational charts. All you have to do is type in or import your text and numerical data, and you have an instant slide show. Don't like the available templates or slide types? You can make your own.
Once created, slides can be further manipulated: They can be reordered in a special slide sorter view or an outline view, and you can add clip art from the more than 500 selections included or import pictures in GIF, TIF, PIC, Windows Metafile, and a host of other formats. You can add text; graphs with imported data; and 51 transitional effects such as wipes, blinds, and irises; and you can alter the color scheme with palette changes.
To liven your presentation even more, Harvard Graphics includes a special-effects module called Harvard FX that lets you add or create structured draw images and add creative flourishes, to existing art. Text can be embossed, backlit, extruded, shaded, shadowed, made metallic, twisted, curved, textured, and made three dimensional. Bitmapped art can be enhanced as well,
To further punch up presentations, Harvard Graphics gives you some limited multimedia options. You can add audio directly through WAV sound effects and MIDI music and in the background through CD audio. The Hypershow tool lets you play back FLC, FLI, and MMM animation and AVI and Quicktime videos. Also, you can define buttons that will trigger screen-show effects during the presentation.
Your presentation can be run from the program or condensed into a runtime module that will run without Harvard Graphics. You can even run it from DOS on machines without Windows - something few Windows presentation packages can do. Screen shows can be conferenced - run across networks and modem connections - and users can draw onscreen during a presentation or look at slides out of sequence in response to audience input.
There's a lot to like about Harvard Graphics. While it's really no more powerful than other presentation programs (despite some unique features in Harvard FX), it has an ease-of-learning factor that's simply unbeatable. If you've never made a presentation before and you have to make one tomorrow, this program's for you.