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Lotus Freelance Graphics- by Christopher B. Wright

When you're putting together a computer presentation, whether for a business presentation, a formal project meeting, or a convention talk, the most traditional way of going about it is to use a presentation package like Microsoft Powerpoint, Corel Presentations, or Lotus Freelance. These packages allow you to create "slide shows" that can be displayed on a computer, or, with extra equipment, projected from your computer onto a screen.

Presentation packages come in may different forms: some are devoted solely to creating presentation slides that are then either printed out or displayed from the computer, while others pack in most drawing features found in today's vector drawing products, allowing the program to double as a standard drawing application. Somewhere in the middle of this range is Freelance Graphics for OS/2 Warp 4, an application that combines extensive multimedia support and moderate graphics creation into a useful and surprisingly easy-to-use presentation application.

Freelance Graphics (.GIF, 42K) actually leans closer to the "presentation" side of the spectrum rather than the "presentation plus graphics" side. While it has graphics tools (.GIF, 3K), it doesn't have the range and breadth of, say, Corel Presentations. You cannot draw in layers, there are no bezier tools. Most importantly, Freelance doesn't appear to be designed to export your graphics files directly into Word Pro (the only way to do it without exporting your graphic into another file format is by using the cut & paste tools). The graphics tools included in Freelance seem designed to supplement the presentation aspects of the program, rather than as a general-purpose tool. Having said that, Freelance does have a basic set of flowcharting tools that are both intuitive to use and flexible in their use, making them handy in many kinds of business presentations and documents.

The presentation-specific tools are a lot more fleshed out, both in power and in ease of use. The three views in freelance (one slide at a time, all slides as thumbnails, and an outline view for your text) all allow you to focus on specific parts of your presentation to save time. For example, the outline view (.GIF, 19K) allows you to assign a title and basic text to each of your slides without having to go through the process of adding new slides (every time you set up a new title, a new slide is created). The thumbnail view (.GIF, 13K) allows you to arrange your slides to your satisfaction by simply dragging them around the screen. And the single slide view allows you to modify the general layout and graphics of each slide one at a time, without worrying about changing any other slides in the process.

Lotus has done a great job at making all of the objects in the single slide view area context-sensitive, allowing you to modify just about every aspect of your presentation without having to use the menu. Each object on a slide (text, graphics, anything) can be given an action -- so you could, for example, have your text and graphics "fade in" one at a time during your presentations, or you could link a graphic with another slide so that when you clicked on it with your mouse, you jump to that slide as if you were clicking on a hyperlink on a web page. In fact, it is possible to create entire multimedia presentations with Freelance, so long as you are careful and don't try to get too complex in your design.

One of the best features of Freelance is that you don't need it to view its presentations. Freelance comes with a kind of "presentation compiler" that allows people who don't have the program to view your presentation. The OS/2 version will allow both OS/2 users and Windows 95/NT users to view their creations. This is probably one of the best features of the program, since it allows the author to have a lot more control over how the information is distributed. For example, the author could take the presentation on a laptop that doesn't have Freelance installed on it, and still run it at meetings and demos. The author could even distribute his or her presentation over the Internet. You could conceivably create e-zines and other such publications on Freelance and upload it to FTP or Web sites for people to download and view at their leisure.

I like Freelance Graphics a lot, but I wish Lotus had spent as much time developing and extending the graphics capabilities as they had with the presentation/multimedia capabilities. The graphics tools are adequate for what they are intended to do, but I miss having bezier curve tools and layers. I also don't know why graphics created in Freelance can't be saved in Freelance's old .DRW format (which is the only native Freelance format Word Pro recognizes, by the way). I found it terribly frustrating the first time I tried to import a Freelance graphic into Word Pro, and I find the cut & paste method more of a kludge than anything else.

I also wish Lotus had spent a bit more time on the documentation. I give Lotus low marks all around for the quality of their documentation -- while it's reasonably well written it doesn't cover any more than the very basic you need to get started. While this will let you use the program, it most definitely will not show you how to use the "cool stuff" (transition effects and the rest); in fact, the documentation really doesn't even tell you the "cool stuff" exists! Lotus should have taken the time to hire a few more technical writers and completely documented their entire suite. What's more, they should have contacted me and paid me to do it (but that's another story).

The result of this lack of documentation is that it will take some clicking and playing around before you uncover all the neat effects you can use in your presentations. Fortunately, the interface is fairly straightforward and intuitive so you'll eventually be able to find what you're looking for.

The bottom line is that Freelance Graphics is an excellent presentation tool with mostly unexceptional graphics tools. And the standalone player that allows you to distribute the presentation without the program makes Freelance a must-have for anyone who wants to distribute their presentations to a wide range of audiences.

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Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.


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