Microsoft Producer for Powerpoint 2003 plug-in review

powerpoint logo[November, 2008] It doesn't appear that Microsoft is actively supporting this product anymore (probably just as well). However, you can still get it if you want (follow the link at the bottom of the page), so I left the review in place.
Editor's Note:
I had planned on walking you through a complete product evaluation - installation, importing, features, and publishing. I realized a little way into this that doing so would make me guilty of the same infraction as Microsoft in their presentation of this product. Therefore, it seemed prudent under these circumstances to give you the summary first.

Summary:
Here's what really irked me about the whole process - they wasted my time. I'm not saying that it is a bad product, I don't really know that because I never really got to the evaluation part. And I'm not saying it won't work for anyone, there are obviously companies that are using is successfully. What I am saying is that it is not what I was looking for, and it took me almost 2 hours to figure that out. There is just no excuse for that.

Had Microsoft expended just the slightest amount of energy explaining the basic capabilities of the software I would have known it wasn't for me and I would have happily moved on. Here's all they needed to say:

  • Producer is a stand-alone application, into which you import PowerPoint presentations, and then add or create additional multi-media content that will show in a window adjacent to those presentations.
  • Producer will not create a single media file, (such as a .wmv, or .avi, or .mpg, [or heaven forbid Flash]), but will instead create an ActiveX-dependent .htm file, with the supporting files placed into a complex multi-level directory structure underneath the main files.
  • Producer will create output that is viewable only in Internet Explorer or Netscape 7. No other browsers are supported, and there is no way to export the final product into any other file format.

In 15 seconds I could have been on my way, because this is not what I was looking for. Software can have all the greatest features imaginable, but if it doesn't supply the finished content in a usable format then it's just a waste of time and energy. I needed a solution that would work across a wide variety of browsers, and this doesn't. Occasionally Microsoft still acts like they are the only software provider on the planet, and the results from that kind of thinking are never good. Producer is no exception.

I've included a couple of the high (low) points of what I did find out below, in case you're still interested.

 

For my test all I wanted to do was to import a small presentation into Producer and see what came out the other end.

For the record, they call this a plug-in for PowerPoint, but in the purest sense it really bends the definition of a plug-in. It is actually a complete, stand-alone application, into which you import PowerPoint presentations and additional multi-media files. True, without PowerPoint it's not going to be of much use, but I expected to see something that ran from within PowerPoint, and that's not the case.

I skipped adding any video and audio files right now, I just wanted a down-and-dirty look at the minimal output. Just throw something in the front, and see what came out the back, without spending any time right now looking at the capabilities of the software. I'm not going to go into much detail here, because it couldn't supply the finished product in a format that I could use. Here's what I believe to be the main problems:

  1. For my test I imported a presentation with 10 slides that weighed a total of 556K, and this is the output from the Save to my computer / CD option:

     

    producer demo 02

     

    That's right, over 8 mb and 134 files in 4 folders. I nearly choked, for a web-based solution this is not a good thing. In all fairness the majority of the weight came from what looks to be a default .wmv file that is shown in the mult-media windows, but as I opted to not include any additional content the 7 mb + size of that file is a mystery, and to be honest it just wasn't worth the effort of tracking down.

  2.  
  3. The best thing about Microsoft software is, ironically, also the worst thing about Microsoft software - it is made to work really well with other Microsoft software - unfortunately, anybody else need not apply. After you get through the whole process of creating your Producer presentation these are the export options you are given:
     

    producer demo 01

     

    I tried exporting using all of the options, and none were viewable in Firefox. In my opinion there is just no excuse for that these days.

  4.  
  5. Finally, I tried to export the files to my web server, but was not able to configure Producer to connect to it. This is not from being a n00b, I've got dozens of web servers I connect to using dozens of different types of applications, I can figure most of them out without very much difficulty. If it takes me longer than a few moments it's because the software developers have failed to make it simple, not because I'm an idiot. The final insult (and, coincidentally, the place where I decided to un-install the product) came from the following. After not being able to connect to my web server, and not being able to find a link to a help file that would explain what I was doing wrong, I hit the 'Back' button in the wizard. Thinking the 'Learn more' button might give useful information:
     

    producer demo 03

     

    I found myself taken to a webpage for the 'Producer 2003 Partner Showcase', providing a list of 'independent companies worldwide that provide value-added products and services for Microsoft Producer for Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003'...

    [Sigh...]

    [Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs -> Remove Microsoft Producer...]

Additional resources

 

If you're still interested:

  • You can download Producer 2003 from Microsoft here
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