I switched from traditional presentation programs to RemarkJS, and I’m glad I did. RemarkJS (or Remark) is a free, open-source presentation system that lets you write slideshows in Markdown and present with your web browser. It strikes a great balance: it is simple and has just enough functionality to make the most important things delightfully easy—but it’s not limiting. It’s powerful enough to build advanced presentations. Most of all, it makes me happy, because it gives me control and makes me more effective.

Remark is simple to use: it’s a JavaScript library that converts a single Markdown document into slides. It supports normal Markdown syntax, which is a simple plaintext format that makes it easy to write headings, lists, and pretty much anything else you need for moderately complex documents and slideshows. RemarkJS adds a few slideshow-specific extensions that give you a lot of flexibility and power. If you already know Markdown, the RemarkJS learning curve will take you 30 seconds; if you don’t, it’ll take you 5 minutes.

You use RemarkJS by putting a script tag and a text area into a web page. Remark reads the text from the text area, and builds a presentation. You just load the page in your browser and it turns into a presentation. There’s a ready-to-use boilerplate template that just works, so even if the first part of this paragraph sounds complicated, you’ll have no problem because you don’t actually need to do it yourself.

Remark converts the slides into normal HTML and CSS with default styling that works well for presentations. As an author, you don’t need to fiddle with HTML and CSS, but you can if you want: you’re not locked out, and the browser’s full capabilities are just an angle-bracket away. It’s easy to add SVG vector images, animations, beautiful math equations, movies, code syntax highlighting, and much more. You can also customize the visual styling of the slideshow easily, adding your own flair with images, web fonts, and anything else that you could do in a website.

RemarkJS supports all of the most important semi-advanced features you need for slideshows, again making them easy out-of-the-box:

  • It’s easy to build slides with different styles, like title slides and section dividers. You can add full-coverage background images with a single line of Markdown, if you like building image-heavy slides. If you like text-heavy slides, that’s just as easy. And RemarkJS has default functionality for things like centering text and making bulleted lists.
  • You can create slides that reveal text or images progressively. It’s actually much easier to do this in RemarkJS than in PowerPoint or Keynote!
  • There’s a simple way to do slide “layouts” (a.k.a. “slide masters”). These let you easily customize things like the structure and content of any slide. Unlike slideshow programs that make you dig through menus to edit the “slide masters,” RemarkJS implements them as slides that don’t get displayed in the slideshow. It’s easy to apply these template slides.
  • The default aspect ratio is 4:3, but Remark also supports 16:9 aspect ratio slides.

RemarkJS works really well as a presentation tool, too—it’s not just for building slideshows, it’s also “just right” for presenting them as a speaker. Among the things it supports:

  • It lets you “clone” a presentation into two browser windows that stay synchronized with each other. You can put one on your laptop and one on an external display.
  • You can add speaker notes to your presentation, and view them in one window while the other one is in presentation mode. The speaker view is simple and complete: it has a picture of the current and next slides, notes for the current and next slides, and a timer.
  • There are keyboard shortcuts for controlling the slideshow. You can view the shortcuts with the ? key. You can use the keyboard to control how the slides are displayed, and navigate to slides by next, previous, start, end, or slide number. If you’re on a mobile device like an iPad, Remark works great too: you just swipe to navigate slides.
  • It’s easy to use RemarkJS offline; you don’t need to have an Internet connection. And you can export slides to PDF1 by simply printing the slideshow and saving as a PDF.

RemarkJS isn’t the only browser-based slideshow program, but it’s the only one I know of that is simple and uses Markdown, which makes it a winner for me. Here are a few other open-source and free alternatives I looked at:

  • RevealJS is a sophisticated browser-based presentation tool that is the open-source basis of a commercial slideshow service. It’s powerful, but lacks the simplicity and speed of Markdown.
  • ImpressJS is an open-source clone of Prezi. That flashy style isn’t for me; it’s also more complicated than RemarkJS.
  • RevealJS and ImpressJS seem to be the most popular, but I found some others that I didn’t take a lot of time to look into: Bespoke, DZSlides, Shower, CSSS, Flowtime, Slidy, Deck.js, RISE, and WebSlides.

In conclusion, RemarkJS has solved the hassle of dealing with complex traditional slideshow software for me. It gives me simplicity and control and makes me look good on stage. It allows me to put my presentations on this website, eliminating the need to deal with file formats, synchronizing presentations, and converting across all the devices I use. I spend a lot of time and effort building and presenting slideshows, and RemarkJS has improved my quality of life and enjoyment.

  1. There’s a bug in PDF export, but the fix is easy to apply. [return]

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