Slideshows: Passage Express, Photo Story 3, OpenOffice Impress

by JL Beeken on 3-10-2007

I’m still back in the dinosaur age with slideshows.

My computer does not have a DVD-drive and it only has a 30 GB hard-drive so movies and videos are pretty much out of range here. Don’t know much about them really.

I once got excited over having AVI’s made of some 1950’s home movies; little bundles in snowsuits racing around the screen at warp speed, very funny stuff, so I tried taking one (4GB) apart to re-order the segments. Not only did it crash the program I was working with but it crashed my whole computer so bad I had to re-install the operating system. I’m sure smaller movies are possible but not something I’ve spent much time with so far.

If you’re using Passage Express, you already know that any folder of pictures can be displayed as a slideshow. Or you can choose from your pictures in various folders to make an original slideshow with enhanced options, and save it as a movie if you like. Or you can import a slideshow you’ve made somewhere else. If you’re not using PE, there’s one more reason why you should.

Passage Express

Passage Express

Since I understand nothing, nada, zip about all the choices for movie file formats, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t watch an above-created .mpg movie on my computer. I could make the movie, PE works fine, but Windows Media Player refused to open it. I thought .mpg was a no-brainer as I’ve actually heard of it.  Apparently not.

So I looked around on the web and didn’t find much except cursory advice and a URL going to a site with lots of strange language. Down the list I saw Codec Pack All in 1. “All in one” sounded good so I downloaded and installed that. (I do not recommend this as a method for choosing software.) Then I tried playing my movie again and it worked! So another problem resolved, although I still have no idea why. And if I sent it to someone else who doesn’t understand this stuff either could they play it? Would they be willing to install codecs if they don’t know what codecs are? Not my cousin Sam. There are other formats for saving movies in PE but I don’t understand those either. There are certainly better players around than Windows Media, VLC, for instance, that won’t baulk at an MPG. Will your non-technical audience be willing to install one? QuickTime said MPG is not a movie file, so as you can see, this could be challenging. But that’s movies.

Another choice for making slideshows is a dandy little program from Microsoft called Photo Story 3. You can have it for free although Microsoft will put you through an annoying process of validating your genuine copy of XP before you can download it. Get it from CNET Download instead to bypass the aggravation. It’s like anything else Microsoft, meaning everything is laid out for you in the most simplistic of terms. So even if it’s your first month on a computer you should be able to create a WMV slideshow with music, transitions, even narration if you like without having to burn a single brain cell. It’s hard to believe there are actually tutorials for this but there are. Beginner’s Guide to Photo Story. It will take much longer to read and understand the tutorials than just following your nose from beginning to end in the software. It works surprisingly well. Most of the time.

Photo Story 3

Any number of common photo editors will create slideshows. There’s no dearth of possibilities for throwing your pictures and sound into one of these programs and having it spit out a slideshow in short order. For instance, Adobe Elements does a fine job of making a WMV file with music, narration and transition effects. The editor is close by for making any adjustments to pictures before you begin. I used it once and then forgot it was there.

I’m partial to PowerPoint presentations myself. I don’t have Microsoft Office or any parts thereof, but there’s a cure for that. OpenOffice. This is also a full-featured business suite, much more than most of us will need, now or ever, but one of the modules is a slideshow maker called Impress, and impressive it is.

OpenOffice Impress

OpenOffice: Impress

This is a do-it-yourself-er from the word go. You decide where you want the pictures and how large, where you want the text, whether and how you want to layer pictures and text, your choice of transitions, animations, 3-D effects, colors. Although there are reams of options it’s so well laid out that this is relatively easy software to find your way around in. You create the individual slides and then save the whole thing as a PPT slideshow. Or save it as a PDF. Or export individual slides as graphics files. “Creating a slide” can be as simple as inserting a single photograph. Or it can be anything else your imagination can dream up. Even straight text. So if you’d like to make a show with pictures and stories intertwined that would work out just beautifully.

PowerPoint’s PPT is not a format native to OpenOffice and when you try to save your production it will throw up a warning that it may not be able to save to PPT correctly but I’ve never had a problem with that. OpenOffice, being a business suite, appears not to have an option for background music that will run the whole length of a slideshow. That is actually not true and it’s explained at OOoforum.org, if you’re interested.

Of course, the individual picture creations can be made elsewhere and imported whole. The main point is that it’s an economical (free) way to come up with a PPT file if you don’t have PowerPoint.

The PowerPoint Viewer can be downloaded for free. If you’re including PowerPoint presentations in Passage Express you’ll probably want to include the viewer EXE with it.

For the rocket-scientists amongst us there’s S5, an HTML-based process. It’s been picked up for further development so who knows what this may turn into.

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