You could make a case that there's no such thing as a full-blown office suite that can't do presentations. And if that's true, Google Docs just became a full-blown office suite.

The browser-based service has also changed its name from Google Docs and Spreadsheets to Google Docs. Which is just as well, since 'Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations' is a bit of a mouthful. The presentation features are also now part of Google Apps, the superset of Docs that also includes Gmail, Google Calendar, and other productivity tools.

Google Docs' added presentation features don't amount to a Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 killer, or even a PowerPoint clone. Indeed, a bunch of features that PC Advisor might look on as essential for a presentation package to include are glaring omissions - the ability to draw shapes, design your own templates, or create transitions, for example.

But Google Docs' presentation features do let you import Microsoft PowerPoint slides with adequate fidelity, and Google Docs' web-based collaboration features go beyond anything that Microsoft has put into PowerPoint. And that adds up to an interesting and useful service.

As with Google Docs' word processor and spreadsheet, its presentation tool pretty much looks like a somewhat streamlined desktop application that happens to live in your browser. In this case, that means that there's a thumbnail viewer for all your slides on the left, and a big editing window in the middle.

Calling Google Docs' editing tools basic is paying them a compliment. You can add and format text, import graphics, shuffle slides around, and choose from 15 pretty-basic canned themes. At least all the features work the way you'd expect, and work briskly - which isn't true of their counterparts in most other online presentation applications.

Things get interesting when your work involves more than one person. As with Google Docs' word processor and spreadsheet, you can invite other people - providing they have Google accounts - to edit your presentations, which are stored on the web. You can also give presentations across the web, with everybody involved seeing the show as you give it.

That said, your viewers might not be prepared to wait for you to give the presentation. Google has chosen to err on the side of freedom in options given to your spectators - they can jump around in your slides, or even take control of the show and become the person who decides when the slides advance. That's a pretty democratic approach and, while it probably won't work for the most important of presentations, it should work well enough for informal, internal presentations. Which are, of course, the kinds of shows that Google says Docs' presentation features are designed to handle.

When you give a Google Docs presentation, everyone involved gets a chat window so they can discuss the slides as they pop up. All of this collaboration is simple and straightforward, but still powerful enough that some people might opt for doing free Google Docs presentations over using a paid-for web conferencing service. If all you want to do is get some slides online, Docs may be all you need.

Google Docs presentations can be published for latecomers to watch at another time. And, should you require a traditional, in-person slideshow on a PC that might not be connected to the internet, you can save all your slides as HTML within a Zip file, so you can load them and show them on any PC with a browser.

Even if you give Google a pass on editing tools for the moment and hope that it never becomes Microsoftian bloatware, it's missing some stuff it really ought to have. For instance, Google Docs won't export your presentations in PowerPoint form. The only way to do a full-screen show is to put your browser into full-screen mode, something that Google Docs can't do itself. Plus the undo feature doesn't work very well, and the only integration with Google Docs' other features is an option in the word processor that lets you convert a text document into a rudimentary presentation.

OUR VERDICT

Google Docs' presentation tool is, ulimately, a rough draft that thoroughly deserves the beta label. Google reportedly plans to beef up the editing tools, eventually turning Google Docs into a richer environment. Judging from the slow-but-steady progress of Google Docs' word processor and spreadsheet, the presentation features probably won't acquire PowerPoint-crushing sophistication anytime soon. That said, Google Docs should become only more useful over the coming months and, in the meantime, a lot of people are going to find it very useful indeed.