Microsoft floats PowerPoint 'canvas' prototype

Microsoft Thursday floated a trial balloon on a new PowerPoint prototype that starts with a single view and uses a zoom feature for highlighting text, pictures and other details.

Called pptPlex, the prototype is what Microsoft calls a "canvas," allowing users to put together various elements in a single place, then highlight sections using a zoom feature.

The technology is similar to what was shown during Bill Gates's TouchWall demonstration in May at Microsoft's annual CEO Summit.

Bill Gates demonstrates TouchWall technology

The software used with TouchWall is called Plex. Like pptPlex, it was developed by Microsoft's Office Labs, a group within the company that builds prototypes of ideas submitted by employees or interns at the company.

According to Microsoft's Web site, "Plex takes advantage of the natural human capacity for spatial recognition so that users can organize their digital belongings in much the same way that they organize their physical belongings."

Microsoft says while pptPlex is a separate prototype, it uses the same ideas and concepts as Plex. "With ppt, we are looking at how we can make it easy for people to author these types of presentations," says JJ Cadiz, senior program manager in Office Labs. "People said the TouchWall was cool, but asked how do we create one of those things?"

The pptPlex prototype is a plug-in for Office 2007 running on Windows Vista or XP. It allows users to create pptPlex presentations or turn existing presentations into pptPlex projects. The software also includes the pptPlex viewer.

Today PowerPoint presentations are built using a series of slides presented one after another. The pptPlex format erases that notion and provides for a more freewheeling presentation.

Microsoft said the aim is to improve productivity and provide "an additional Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 presentation method." The company pointed out, however, that pptPlex is just a prototype and is neither slated for inclusion in any products nor considered an alpha or beta of planned product features.

The company now is working on Office 14 and hopes to ship the software in the first half of 2009. "We look at a 10-year vision and ask what we can try today," says Cadiz, one of the creators of the prototype. "Sometimes we do prototypes like this and the feedback is helpful."

Cadiz said pptPlex is "a little heavy on the graphics-intensive side," but that because this is a prototype of future technology, the supporting infrastructure should be in place before pptPlex would ever be at the product stage.

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