The younger you are, the less affection you're likely to have for Microsoft PowerPoint, which maybe why the Redmond firm has brought out a new, super-simple, mobile-friendly alternative called Sway. Here's how it changes the process of putting together a slideshow.
First of all, you're going to need access -- Sway is currently invite-only, although the signs are that it will be fully open in the near future. Head to the Sway website and if you're not granted access put your email address down for an invite. You shouldn't have long to wait.
As far as this guide is concerned, we're focusing on the Web interface, but an iPhone app is ready to go as well.
Headers, photos and text
In Sway, most of the formatting and layout is taken care of for you, either a blessing or a curse depending on how much you enjoy experimenting with text styles and picture positions. Your 'slides' can be configured as headers (big text with a background), images (of varying importance, with a caption) or text (just... text).
Each Sway has a header as the first slide; further slides can then be added via the big plus button, at which point you can choose what kind of content comes next. The options that appear next to each block in your presentation will vary depending on the content type, but there aren't many to speak of.
Images can be dragged in from disk or online sources (like OneDrive or Facebook) via a side panel on the left. It's all very simple with just one image per slide, though you can set that image's importance (its size, essentially) using the star icon to the right. The algorithms underpinning Sway will decide how to arrange image slides based on their importance and the size of the screen they're being viewed on. Less significant images might be grouped together in a grid, for example.
As far as videos go, YouTube is the only option. At the moment Sway can't import clips from disk or even from OneDrive. It's still very much a work in progress, though, and there are a bunch of slide layouts (including Grid and Block Quote) that are still labelled as "Coming Soon" inside the Sway interface.
Text and formatting
Text options are very basic, though they may get better over time. Microsoft's demo video shows bulleted text making an appearance though it was nowhere to be found when we tried Sway. You can emphasise text or embed a link using the buttons that appear above the storyline when you're working on a text card, but that's about it for now.
As for headers, they feature big blocks of text and a background image. If you choose not to use a backdrop, a solid colour may or may not be used instead based on the overall theme applied to your presentation (or 'story' to use Sway's official parlance). You can use them as simple text slides to introduce different sections of the storyline.
Moods and remixing
The overall text styles and formatting options are controlled by the theme of the story. Click Mood to pick a new look for the project or Remix to have Sway pick something at random. You can keep remixing the story until you find something you like. Under the Structure section of the Mood sidebar you can also choose whether the slideshow scrolls up and down or from left to right.
Again, certain features are blanked out and unavailable for the time being, but the difference from PowerPoint is obvious. From colours to fonts, the theme of the presentation is decided with a virtual roll of the dice rather than hours of hunting through menus and dialogs. There's no cropping option for your pictures, and no undo.
It's very much a beta-stage product then, but even in its limited early form Sway is still worth a look (particularly once it appears on mobile). Sways that you've created can be embedded in other websites or shared via a link using the Share option up in the top right corner.