Automatic PowerPoint Formatting Approaches?
December 31, 2011 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I need to automate the format of outline-based information into slide presentations, given some simple rules. I can code. I have some ideas. What options am I missing?

I have been asked to help streamline the process of creating a certain text-heavy deliverable. The client creates a text outline and enters it into a set of very specifically formatted PowerPoint slides in a currently-labor-intensive process. The client would like to have the slides generated automatically from the outline, subject to some relatively simple rules about when to split content onto a 2nd slide, what info to include in the heading of that 2nd slide, etc. PowerPoint is not an absolute requirement, PDF slide output using a fairly specific template is. A few ideas I'm considering:
  • LaTeX + Beamer, with a preprocessor to convert an outline into proper TeX markup. Pro: simple-ish, no temptation to manually edit the output. Con: difficult to edit later if you have to, assuming your end user is PowerPoint fluent and doesn't want to bother with TeX.
  • PowerPoint + Apache POI + a preprocessor. Pro: I already know the API; output would still be editable. Con: POI's functions for creating presentations are a bit buggy; capability to edit the output = temptation to edit the output.
Anything I'm missing? I'd rather avoid VBScript if I can, and I'm not a .net guy, so I'm worried about writing an Office plugin even though it's certainly one potential route. I know I'm kind of handwaving the format of the outline -- as long as it's usable and I can get data out of it, there's no specific requirement there.
posted by Alterscape to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you considered using Python? I found this link which might be useful for this.
posted by aroberge at 10:46 AM on December 31, 2011

I don't think the Google Docs API provides any support for creating a Google Presentation document with content, unless you already have a PowerPoint document that you are importing into a new Presentation doc.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:14 AM on December 31, 2011

You can create text files that PPT will interpret as separated slides with various bulleted list levels. It is rather straightforward to create although I am not sure it will be enough for your needs. Here is a basic set of instructions for doing this. There is also quite a bit of info out there as well, this was just the first hit.

In my experience, the process works well, but expect that there will be a bit of adjustment. There always seems to be that one special character that throws the process off.
posted by lampshade at 4:28 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another option is a PDF mail merge. There is a company that sells a plug-in for Acrobat which takes simple files and converts to PDF just like any mail merge. The source data is setup just like a Word data source and you can it can be txt, csv, xlsx or any of the other standards. Not sure if it would suit your needs, but it is an option.

Caveats: you need Acrobat Pro and the plugin itself is a bit pricey.

I have done some work with it before and it works really well. Not sure though it would meet your needs though.

AutoMailMerge Plug-in

The demo puts a big watermark on the files.
posted by lampshade at 5:30 PM on January 1, 2012

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