Creating slides from simple Markdown text

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Over the last seven years I have had to prepare 100’s (yes 100’s!!) of slide decks for investors, conferences, customers, etc. I have gone back and forth between PowerPoint and LibreOffice but no matter what I did the result was always the same:

  1. I hated every minute spent fiddling around with these WYSIWYG tools
  2. The results were generally poor (tightly coupled to #1)
  3. I spent too much time on preparing slides (see #1, #2)

A few weeks ago my friend Jurgen Leschner showed me his open source publishing tool for converting markdown to html. For presentations he has also integrated the server with a pretty slick presentation theme. I was sold as soon as he told me that I could create my presentations in emacs:-)

Using Jurgen’s tool (and his help) I prepared four different presentations in about a week!! (HotChips, HPEC, OSH Summit, Darpa Summit). I can’t share all of them yet, but they will all be published in a few weeks. In the meantime, here is a cut down version of one of them:

SLIDES (SOURCES)

SLIDES (PDF)

In my opinion these are the best looking slides I have done and I am still amazed that they could be created with what amounts to ~100 lines of Markdown “readme” text.

The best part of all…I actually enjoyed creating these presentations!!

Here are some reasons why I think everyone should start using Markdown text for presentations and documentation:

  1. Free as in freedom
  2. Free as in beer
  3. Puts focus back on content/message
  4. Version control
  5. Tiny source files
  6. Create web page/presentation/pdf from ONE source
  7. Much easier collaboration
  8. No binary blobs
  9. More productive
  10. It’s way more fun!

Adieu PowerPoint!  Next week I start converting the Epiphany and Parallella Microsoft Word manuals to markdown.

Cheers,

Andreas

11 Comments

  • John says:

    You also have LaTeX packages like Beamer to produce presentations, see https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX/Presentations , which you can also write in emacs or whatever other people use since it’s just text. LaTeX might be better specially if you need to include lots of equations.
    Or you can simply use LaTeX to produce the equations, export it as an image file and import it using this program.
    I think any of these two methods are way better than any WYSIWYG solution available.

    • Yes LaTex has been around for a long time…to me the appeal of Markdown is the restrictive simplicity. I don’t want to acquire all the syntax/expertise associated with LaTeX or html.

  • Andrew Cox says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the tip. The slides do look good.

    For the manuals, however, you might want to look at asciidoc. It is very much like Markdown but with the document-level constructs that Markdown lacks.

    A good article on it by a github founder: https://medium.com/@chacon/living-the-future-of-technical-writing-2f368bd0a272

    Best,
    Andrew

    • I’ll definitely take a look but in general I am quite happy with the limited features. I will do a first cut at conversion in Markdown and see where we stand.

      • Andrew Cox says:

        Sections, chapters, TOC, tables, bibliography, … These are among the differentiators I think.

        Markdown seems to have taken a subset of the HTML you might write in the body of a single article and given it a plain text syntax.

        Asciidoc on the other hand has taken the docbook XML format for encoding whole books and given a plain text equivalent for everything in that.

        Whether Markdown is enough comes down to how complex these manuals are going to get. Once you have everything in Markdown, a shift to Asciidoc should not be too big a step though.

        Best,
        A.

        • Thanks Andreas for writing about pub-server.
          Just to clarify, and perhaps try to answer the question about Asciidoc:
          pub-server is using markdown only for representing the fragments of text, like you have for each slide in the presentation. One source file can contain many such fragments, each with its little own little header. The order of the fragments is preserved during rendering.
          The implicit document-structure and layout/design live mostly in “themes” which consist of HTML templates and CSS and javascript. To use pub-server for documentation, you’ll need a more complex “doc” theme which includes things like navigation, TOC, index etc. All themes work with the same multi-fragment markdown source, using headers to designate the different types of fragments required for each special case.
          hth
          j.
          http://jldec.github.io/pub-doc/how-it-works
          http://blog.pubblz.com

        • Petros says:

          Seems that should be a very interesting contribution to the markdown vs docbook/DITA debate. Looking forward for findings.

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