If you deliver presentations often, you'll soon have an assortment of PowerPoint presentations that you want to save as a presentation bank for future use. You might also have some movies, images, and several document formats like Word, Excel, and Adobe PDF that you like to link from your presentations. Now, let's explore the problem part— it can be a tough job using this presentation and media bank effectively to whip up new presentations—and even if you do that, you'll find that PowerPoint doesn't work well with all sorts of multimedia file formats. The solution is to create a flexible playlist of your PowerPoint slides and presentation with all other content. However, no program can create a playlist from such disparate sources. That was until Freepath entered the fray.
So, what is Freepath? Freepath is a new, deceptively simple program from Grass Roots Software that can create playlists from all sources including PowerPoint presentations, document, and multimedia formats. But the word "playlist" is a misnomer in this case since Freepath doesn't show all these elements one after the other using preset timings. You'll have to control the movement to the next element using a keyboard or remote control—or if you are feeling adventurous, you can create a dynamic playlist by selecting your options right in front of your computer. Freepath will take care to ensure that your audience sees only the projected view that shows no part of your computer interface at all—it's a little like being a PowerPoint DJ!Back
Grass Roots Software, the makers of Freepath are based in Grass Valley, California, USA and create several other software products including SundayPlus, a presentation program created especially for use in churches.
My contact for this review was Lou Douros, President of Grass Roots Software. Thank you, Lou.
You can learn more about Grass Roots Software and their products at their site (link no longer exists).
You can learn more about Freepath and download a demo from this link (link no longer exists).Back
You can download a free trial version of Freepath from the Freepath web site that functions identically to the full version for the trial period of 30 days - to continue using the product, you'll need to buy a full version of the product.
Installation is easy and will create a start menu group for you (see screenshot).
The start menu group for Freepath includes a shortcut for the manual as well—it's a small, 30 page manual so you might want to print it out.Back
Using Freepath might require some unlearning. Here are a few basics that you must know:
- First of all, you cannot create a self-running compilation of PowerPoint slides and other document and multimedia formats. That's because Freepath has no playing abilities of its own and provides the play control to other applications. For example, all PowerPoint slides are shown using PowerPoint itself, but this is done so transparently that you won't be able to make it out. Most multimedia and picture file formats are shown in the same way using the QuickTime Player, and Word, Excel, and PDF viewing requires Word, Excel, and Acrobat Viewer to be installed on presenting machines.
- Freepath works best in a dual monitor environment—and that's the same as a laptop-projector environment. Although the product can be used in a single monitor environment to create playlists and test them in a mini-Viewer, you can view full screen Freepath shows only if you are using a dual monitor or projector environment. For this review, I used Freepath on a dual monitor setup.
When you first launch Freepath, you'll see an empty playlist window (see screenshot). To import elements (Freepath calls these items), you can either drag them from an open Explorer instance. You can even drag multimedia elements from an iTunes window. The elements are placed in the order you bring them in but these can be rearranged with a simple drag and drop operation. In addition, you can also import elements using the convenient Import icon in the toolbar.
You'll notice that until you do something, your second monitor (or projector) shows a blank grey canvas—to change that display, just click any of the thumbnails in the playlist window. Unless the chosen element is a PowerPoint presentation, it will be presented on the other display (see picture).
You can set fades between separate elements, and in the case of audio, video and web files, you can use the media controls for each of them to further fine-tune their display. For example you can set the starting and ending points of video files, and work with browser like controls when displaying a web page.
Display of PowerPoint slides works in a different way—click a PowerPoint presntation and it opens a new Chooser window that includes slide thumbnails of all the slides in the presentation—then you can select the slide you want to show on the display monitor or projector.
This sort of free control over what's being displayed can be done using the click-and-show method so that any clicked element shows up on the other screen. On the other hand if you need a more linear approach, you can use the arrow keys or a presentation remote control to move from one element to the other in sequence, much like a normal PowerPoint presentation.
Freepath playlists can be saved and opened later and if you want to move the Freepath playlist along with chosen media files to another computer, you can create what Freepath calls a GoFile. A GoFile is a self-contained playlist that will show on any system that has Freepath and supporting programs such as a full version of PowerPoint installed.Back
Freepath costs $249 and is presently available at an introductory price of $149. Purchases can be made through secure online server.
Support options include an online knowledge base, email support, and an online support forum.Back
Freepath is the type of product that makes you wonder why no one ever thought of something like this before. It's very simple to use—in fact, this simplicity can sometimes be a disadvantage since you'll have to do a little unlearning.
In my opinion, the best Freepath feature is that unlike other applications that try to add new features to PowerPoint, Freepath doesn't do anything of that sort. It leaves all PowerPoint content unaltered and you can go back and forth between playing your presentations from within PowerPoint or a Freepath playlist. That sort of freedom makes it so much more interesting to use—and at this price point, the product is a steal.