Microsoft brought its Sway presentation tool out of beta Wednesday, making it generally available for anyone who wants to create Web-based presentations that automatically reshape themselves to fit different devices.
Sway makes it easy for people to build slick multimedia packages based on a topic or set of notes and work on them with other users from across the Web. Microsoft launched Sway as a beta in October, and has been improving the service ever since. In its current form, users can bring in content from around the Web in addition to their own media assets and mix all of that together into a set of cards that can then be published to the Web or played back on a device, similar to how people use PowerPoint.
There is a Windows 10 version of Sway that allows users to create presentations from their newly updated PC or tablet. The app will automatically download users' existing Sway presentations and allow them to work with them offline, though some online content like embedded video won't work without an Internet connection.
The Windows 10 app joins native apps that are already available for iPhone and iPad, as well as a Web app.
Hardcore PowerPoint users will likely want to stick with Microsoft's more venerable presentation tool. Sway, though, offers an interesting alternative for people who want to maintain the flow of a presentation but make it more legible to a Web audience. Sway automatically handles setting up slide layouts and transitions, smartly rearranging them to match different form factors.
To aid the creation of presentations, Microsoft introduced a new layout that lets Sway users arrange content to display one screen at a time, similar to a traditional slide deck. Prior to that, Sway's layouts were more reminiscent of an ongoing river of content that showed a preview of some upcoming information alongside content that took center stage.
Sway integrates with a wide variety of Internet services like YouTube and Twitter so users can easily embed content from the Web into their presentations. The software also features built-in image search so that people can pull in images from the broader Web for use in their presentations. By default, it searches for pictures that carry Creative Commons licenses that users will likely be able to insert without running afoul of copyright law. It's similar to the online image search functionality that Microsoft added to its other Office apps on Windows in place of the aging ClipArt gallery.
People who want to share their Sway presentations with the broader world can now use Microsoft's relaunched Docs.com service, which lets anyone share those new presentations along with files from PowerPoint, Word, Excel and Office Mix.
Anyone can use Sway so long as they have a Microsoft account -- there's no Office 365 subscription required. Business users who want to integrate Sway with their existing Office 365 subscription will likely have access to it unless their company is subscribed to an older plan that Microsoft no longer sells. (In that case, it's still possible for them to use the service with their personal account.)
The launch comes as Microsoft is gearing up for the release of Office 2016 this fall. The latest edition of the company's office suite is already available for Mac users with an Office 365 subscription, while Microsoft is still tweaking a public beta version of the apps for Windows.
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