GUI tools are limiting

I used to do presentations with typical slideshow software, such as OpenOffice/LibreOffice Impress, but these tools felt restricted and limiting. I need to do a lot of reorganizing and moving around, and that might mean changing things from bullet lists to headings to text to pictures and back to bullet lists over again. This happens through the whole process. I might realize something that was just a bullet point needs to be a slide, or that a set of slides for time reasons need to be shortened down to bullet points. Much of the reorganization comes from seeing what fits on one slide and what does not, and how I need to pace the presentation, and to some extent even what kinda of pictures I can find to illustrate what I try to say, and if the pictures are funny or not.

Presentation software should give you complete freedom to reorganize your presentation on every level, not only by reorganizing slides.

The solution for me and many others, is to use a text-markup language, like reStructuredText, Markdown or similar, and then use a tool that generates an HTML slide show from that.

Text-markup gives you the convenience and freedom to quickly move parts around as you like.

I chose reStructuredText, because I know it and because it has a massive feature set. When I read the documentations of other text-markup langages it was not obvious if they has the features I needed or not.

Pan, rotate and zoom

The tools that exist to make presentations from text-markup will make slideshows that has a sequence of slides from left to right. But the fashion now is to have presentations that rotate and zoom in and out. One open source solution for that is impress.js.

With impress.js you can make modern cool presentations.

But impress.js requires you to write your presentation as HTML, which is annoying, and the markup isn’t flexible enough to let you quickly reorganize things from bullet points to headings etc.

You also have to position each slide separately, and if you insert a new slide in the middle, you have to reposition all the slides that follow.


So what I want is a tool that takes the power, flexibility and convenience of reStructuredText and allows me to generate pan, rotate and zoom presentations with impress.js, without having to manually reposition each slide if I reorganize a little bit of the presentation. I couldn’t find one, so I made Hovercraft.

Hovercraft’s power comes from the combination of reStructuredText’s convenience with the cool of impress.js, together with a flexible and powerful solution to position the slides.

There are four ways to position slides:

  1. Absolute positioning: You simply add X and Y coordinates to a slide, in pixels. Doing only this will not be fun, but someone might need it.
  2. Relative positioning to last slide: By specifying x and/or y with with a starting r,you specify the distance from the previous slide. By using this form of positioning you can insert a slide, and the other slides will just move to make space for the new slide.
  3. Relative positiong to any slide: You can reference any previous slide by its id and specify the position relative to it. This will work for all positioning fields. However, you should not use r as a slide id since the positioning might not behave as you expect.
  4. Automatically: If you don’t specify any position the slide will have the same settings as the previous slide. With a relative positioning, this means the slide will move as long as the previous slide moved. This defaults to moving 1600px to the right, which means that if you supply no positions at all anywhere in the presentation, you get the standard slide-to-the-left presentation.
  5. With an SVG path: In this last way of positioning, you can take an SVG path from an SVG document and stick it into the presentation, and that slide + all slides following that has no explicit positioning will be positioned on that path. This can be a bit fiddly to use, but can create awesome results, such as positioning the slides as snaking Python or similar.

Hovercraft! also includes a presenter console that will show you your notes, slide previews and the time, essential tools for any presentation.

Shortcut/Navigation Keys:

A help popup appears upon launching a presentation; it shows the keyboard shortcuts.

  • H -> Toggle the help popup
  • Right, Down, Page Down, Space -> Next slide
  • Left, Up, Page Up -> Previous slide
  • G -> Go to slide
  • P -> Open presenter console