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Microsoft Sway: PowerPoint on steroids

Nancy Gohring | Oct. 2, 2014
Microsoft unveiled a new Office app, called Sway, designed to let users easily build nice presentations.

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Credit: Paul Hudson

Microsoft this morning showed off a new Office app called Sway that essentially reimagines PowerPoint.

Microsoft describes Sway as "a new way for you to create a beautiful, interactive, web-based expression of your ideas, from your phone or browser," according to a blog post introducing the new app. It is only available via preview, which means you have to request to be invited to try it.

Sway is designed to make it easier for users to choose content from anywhere -- for now including OneDrive, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and your other devices -- and then the app automatically creates designs based on simple cues from the user.

Users start by choosing from set layouts. Then, when you drag or drop a new photo, you can hit a few buttons that appear over the photo to indicate how important the photo is. Click the largest of three stars to show you want the image to figure prominently.

"Sway uses your input to update the look of your creation accordingly and adapt it to display appropriately across devices," according to the blog post.

You can also drag and drop a photo along a timeline that shows the content you've already included in order to move the image.

Sways can be designed so that users scroll through them horizontally or vertically. Images can be stacked so that viewers have to click on them to advance to the next. One interesting design concept has users scrolling horizontally for a high level description and then vertically under each tile to get additional tiles with more detail.

Users can also hit a "Remix" button and the app will totally redesign the layout and style.

Microsoft offered a number of nice examples that show how businesses might use Sway. One is for an online annual report. As you scroll through the vertical Sway, images, graphics, and videos jump into place. Background photos freeze in place as you finish scrolling through overlaid text. It's an interactive experience that's far nicer to browse through than a PDF file and has the design of a modern Web site.

Other samples showed personal use cases, like essentially an online photo book of a vacation or a school report.

The blog post showed screen shots from an iPhone app that lets users build Sways from their phones and even take photos to add directly to the Sway.

Microsoft didn't compare Sway to PowerPoint, but it seems like a much easier to use, more modern version of the slideshow software. People can make really nice PowerPoint decks, but not easily. Sway appears to be designed to let people build the nicest kind of PowerPoint deck with ease, and then embed and display it in a natural way online.


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