Ideal presentation file format for technical presentations?
December 14, 2011 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a presentation format that's easy to use, lends itself to automation and plays nicely with version control systems.

My team is currently producing technical training material using PowerPoint. We'd like to move to something which has a text-based format since it will be easier to meaningfully diff changes in version control. The ideal solution would have the following properties:
  • Works on Mac OS X and Linux, and preferably in Windows 7 too
  • Easily automated from the command line
  • Able to produce PDF output reliably
  • Supports Chinese, Japanese and other non-Western languages
  • Separates content from formatting as much as possible
  • Easy for non-programmers to learn and understand
I have experience with LaTeX (beamer) and it meets the first four criteria perfectly, but fails the last two to various degrees. While our team is very technically proficient, the people who'll be translating/localizing the material might not be.

Any ideas as to what other solutions to investigate might be?
posted by tomwheeler to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I came in here to suggest beamer, but I see you've already considered it. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that your criteria are mutually self-contradictory. Especially these:

1. Diff-able (so, must be text)
2. Separates content from formatting
3. Easy for nonprogrammers to learn and understand

If you've got plain text, the formatting has to go somewhere, so it has to be some kind of command. And nonprogrammers are going to have a steeper learning curve than anything WYSIWYG.

One thing you could do is to use beamer, but to separate the content out somewhat by using \input. Slide content could thus be separated from the template, and edited separately. That way the users would only have to learn a handful of latex commands.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2011

Is there any reason not to use HTML? You can certainly find toolsets to easily export and if you front it with some sort of CMS the leraning curve could get driven down pretty far.
posted by advicepig at 9:00 AM on December 14, 2011

Have you considered Restructured Text? It's a simple text markup language which you can then run through scripts to produce various output formats. Specifically, rst2s5 produces S5 HTML presentations, and rst2pdf produces PDF output.

Here's a blog entry on producing PDF slides:
posted by bonecrusher at 9:00 AM on December 14, 2011

I have used all the following, in decreasing order of preference (and feature completeness)

- latex/beamer (

- restructured text / S5 (see link above)

- latex / active DVI

- MagicPoint -

- html5slides -
posted by knz at 10:05 AM on December 14, 2011

« Older troubleshooting furnace   |   Fix my trigger temper? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.