Presentations with Jekyll and deck.js

At work, this has been The Year of Presentations for me so far. I’ve prepared and performed three hour-long presentations so far this year, and I will continue to do more. The presentations I’ve done before haven’t been too serious; I’d just slap a few slides together in whatever was handy and talk in front of them. However, with these more serious presentations, I was making much more use of the associated software. I haven’t been happy with any of them. They violate my preference for precision, after all.

The first one I went with KPresenter, part of KOffice. It had been years since I last used KOffice, so I thought I’d give it a shot. One the good side, I liked the templates. However, it crashed on me a lot, which was very frustrating. The GUI is lacking in a lot of places. For example, I wanted to re-arrange my slides, and dragging and dropping them feels like the natural choice. The mouse cursor even suggests it by switching to a hand icon. Nope, dragging and dropping does nothing. Overall, it felt like using a crummy version of Inkscape. The presentation was a mess when viewed by other presentation software, so I had to export it to a PDF to use it.

For the second one, I used LibreOffice’s Impress. It’s better than KPresenter, but it still feels clunky. It took some wrestling to get it to do what I wanted. As to be expected, I still had the same feeling of uneasiness I have about any WYSIWYG tool.

For the third one I used PowerPoint, as provided by my employer. The main reason for this was that I was stealing borrowing some important slides from a couple of other people’s presentations, so I had little choice. It was also an opportunity to compare it to the others. Overall I’d say it’s on the same level as Impress, with some slightly nicer GUI behavior.

Fortunately, I recently discovered what may become my preferred presentation tool! It’s deck.js.

With deck.js, I’ll be writing my presentations in HTML 5, something with which I’m already comfortable and experienced. Most importantly, I’ll be able to create my presentations with Emacs and version them with Git. That allows for easy collaboration on presentations without all the stupid e-mailing documents back and forth — though the other person would need to be comfortable with using deck.js, too. That leaves … well, just Brian I guess. So, in theory, this could make collaboration easier.

The downside to deck.js is that it requires a lot of boilerplate, especially if you want to use the extensions, a couple of which are absolutely essential in my opinion. Creating a new presentation requires going through this setup phase, and then working around all the boilerplate the rest of the time. I’ve successfully used Git to work around this problem with Java, so I’ve done the same here, with a little bit of help from Jekyll.

What I’ve done is used Jekyll as a default layout for deck.js. It hides away all of the deck.js boilerplate so that I can focus on my presentation. It also makes it trivial to start a new presentation. All I have to do is clone this repository and I’m ready to go.

git clone --recursive my-pres

The result looks like this: A Jekyll / deck.js Presentation.

Jekyll almost opens up the opportunity to really take deck.js to the next level: presentations written in Markdown! That would be wonderful. Unfortunately, the HTML output is a little bit too demanding for Jekyll (i.e. Maruku) to manage. It’s not quite extensible enough to pull it off. So it’s just HTML5 for now, which is unfortunately bulky when it comes to lists — a common element of presentations. Oh well. I do still get syntax highlighting with Pygments!

I haven’t used it for anything serious yet, so it’s still untried. In my experimentation I found it enjoyable to work with, so I really look forward to making use of it in the future. Feel free to use it yourself, of course, and tell me how it goes.

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Chris Wellons