Yesterday I wrote a rather long post about how users should expect more faithful representation of sophisticated presentation content in their webinars, webcasts, and web meetings. I concentrated on the reproduction of animated movements on slides, and I called attention to new slide transition features in the latest release of Microsoft PowerPoint.
I recognize that the entire subject begs another question… Should a web conferencing product be required to support everything that Microsoft (or another third-party vendor) dreams up?
Each release of PowerPoint adds new effects in object animation and slide transitions. PowerPoint 2013, for instance, added "Glitter" and "Origami" as transition effects. Office 365 subscribers with PowerPoint 2016 get the addition of the "Morph" transition. These animations are not built in to the slides you create. The command to initiate the transition is embedded in the file and then the software performs the requested movement algorithm when the slide is displayed in Slideshow Mode.
Slide designers need to be aware of this playback-dependent software requirement. Your presentation may look great when you test it on your computer with the latest release. But if you send it to another person or show it on a different computer at a client meeting or conference, you may not see the effects you designed in. They would have to be running the same version of PowerPoint you used in order to guarantee similar behavior.
Which brings us back to web conferencing. We have two common scenarios to consider:
1) The software displays what the presenter sees on her/his screen via screen sharing.
This is the easiest way to deal with the issue. It absolves the conferencing vendor from all responsibility for version matching and feature support. It allows the use of different products like Keynote or Prezi if desired. But for this to work as an acceptable solution, the screen sharing performance must be very high - even for participants with limited bandwidth. It's no use saying "We'll show your attendees everything you see on your screen" if they actually end up seeing jerky discontinuities in movement effects that ruin the illusion the designer intended.
2) The software converts the uploaded PowerPoint slides to an internal format for display.
When it works, this is my favorite approach (acknowledging that I only know of PowerPoint support, leaving Prezi and Keynote users in the dark). But this is the scenario in which vendors have to play catch up every time Microsoft adds a new feature. If Microsoft says "Morph is available only to Office 365 subscribers," should we have any right to expect the conferencing software to support that specialized niche feature? The answer from such licensed users is "Yes. You said you support PowerPoint. I have PowerPoint and this is what I created. Show it!" Is it reasonable for users to keep track of every feature in PowerPoint and to know which have support limited to different releases and subscriptions?
I hope web conferencing vendors will continue development efforts to support everything that PowerPoint is capable of. I think there is a market for specialized web conferencing support for Prezi and Keynote as well, since these users are not being served with current conversion algorithms. And the entire question of smooth, fast display through screen sharing is critical. I would like to see the kind of reliable reproduction of screen pixels in full motion that we already see in the best video conferencing applications. Maybe the engineers need to work on a "middle-out compression" algorithm for better real time performance?