Techniques: Off the Shelf: Software

Though difficult to use, this product offers valuable special effects

The Product: LMSoft Presenter 2.1, from LMSoft, in Montreal, Quebec (514-948-1000; $79)

Requirements: Windows 95 or Windows 3.1, 486 processor, 8MB of memory, CD-ROM drive, VGA video card, 8-bit sound card

Reviewer: C. Rodolfo Celis, co-owner of the Virtual Loom, a textile-design company in La Grange, Ga.

LMSoft Presenter is new to the field of multimedia programs designed to help users create colorful and animated presentations. Microsoft's PowerPoint has been the field's dominant player, but LMSoft isn't the first to challenge PowerPoint's paucity of flashy effects.

My design company puts on marketing presentations for the textile industry, so I take a special interest in the way software packages present themselves, their examples, and their help files. Were I asked to give a charitable assessment of LMSoft, I'd respond that although the product has an extremely high visual IQ, it suffers from a lack of "common sense." Perhaps it can do everything you need it to do, but it's almost impossible to find coherent directions on how to make it perform.

When I inserted the LMSoft Presenter CD into my computer, the initial screen offered three menu options, including "See TV scenario." Huh? Scenario? My dictionary defined scenario as an "outline of the plot of a play, film, opera, etc." or a "postulated sequence of future events." Neither of those definitions had much to do with what appeared when I clicked on that icon: the picture of a blank TV plugged into a stylized wall. Clicking on the TV's electrical plug disabled the unit, but even when it was plugged in, not much happened. Much later in my explorations, I learned that the TV screen is a multimedia object into which a user may embed videos.

The installation process introduced two episodes of Windows' blue-screen-of-death fatal-exception errors, which struck terror in my soul. And I was more than a little irritated by the program's cavalier disregard for English. Linguistic incompetence characterized the software's text: "installation informations" and "easy tu use" were only two examples of the sloppiness that marred this product. Had economic pressures forced a premature product release?

Unaccountably, LMSoft's file-management system failed to take advantage of the Windows 95 32-bit operating system. Because the program can't accommodate file names that exceed eight characters, it reduced my file directory to an unintelligible list full of tildes and ellipses. (The latest upgrade claims to solve this.) And the user interface was far from intuitive. Rather than using the straightforward slide-show metaphor popularized by PowerPoint and its successors, LMSoft introduced a confusing interdisciplinary vocabulary that evoked images of virtual reality, publishing, and the Internet.

Despite those difficulties, I managed to assemble a presentation that introduced a fabric design and showed it in several color schemes. In one corner of the screen I embedded a video of me talking about the new designs. As I described them, they popped up in another corner of the screen. Of course, those aren't new tricks. I can do all that with PowerPoint, and though LMSoft does afford more control over individual media, I see no compelling reason to abandon the Microsoft product. However, thanks to the ability of PowerPoint to import data and the ability of LMSoft Presenter to export data, I will add LMSoft to our arsenal of presentation software. Its library of multimedia page templates and audio and video files will give our presentations a much-needed shot in the arm.