As part of Microsoft's push against cloud and mobile apps, it has invested in several cloud-based add-ons to the old Office programs you are familiar with. One of these is Sway, a friendlier alternative to PowerPoint.
Why does Microsoft need a PowerPoint option?
If you've ever worked in an office environment, you'll most likely join PowerPoint with shining salespeople and managers with no public speaking skills. It's not entirely fair, because you can produce brilliant presentations in PowerPoint. But life is not fair, and PowerPoint is a big, heavy business tool with a matching reputation.
Enter Sway, which is Microsoft's attempt to provide a lightweight, cloud-like, story-telling program that is easier to use than PowerPoint and provides more narrative devices than just sliding for frames.
Can anyone use it?
Anyone can use Sway if they sign up for a free Microsoft account. People with Office 365 can also use Sway. There are some differences between the free version and the Office 365 version, but this is mainly on the admin page and allows you to do things like password protect a Sway (oh yes, Sway documents are called "Sways") or delete the footer. There are also some differences in how much content you can fit into a single Sway, but the free version still provides more than enough for the average user.
Let's take a look at why you might want to use Sway.
What can I do with Sway?
If there is one thing that is more frightening than staring at a blank Word document wondering what to write, it stares at a blank PowerPoint presentation and wonders what to add. Presentations are by nature intended for others to see, and a lot of people are afraid of public speaking starting with, so a blank PowerPoint can suffice to give you up and down occasionally.
This fear has always been one of the biggest problems with PowerPoint. Thankfully, Microsoft has acknowledged this, and they have gone a long way to preventing this fear with Sway. Most people are not specialists in design and layout, so Microsoft has provided a lot of templates (18 at the time of writing) for regular presentations to help you get over the creator's blocks and started designing.
These templates include things like company presentations, portfolios, CVs and newsletters. They also include several "inspired" presentations to give you an idea of what Sway can do.
If what you're writing about isn't shown here, or you're just stuck on what to put in your presentation, Sway can help you build a contour. There is a "Start from a topic" option that will produce a topic selector to select.
We cannot emphasize enough how impressive this part of Sway is. If you enter a term-we used "technology" -Sway will create a presentation of a presentation for you, with definitions, uses, areas to be covered, suggestions for linked topics, pictures and more. This runs everything from Wikipedia data and provides full links back to the pages it uses. There is just so much to say about this before we end up with superlatives, so try it for yourself. It is simply brilliant.
There is also a definite emphasis on storytelling, rather than presenting. Sway is designed for a narrative structure that streams, either from left to right or up, and the presenter (or reader) can use a mouse wheel to move through it rather than a button or a click. This is a small but subtle distinction; PowerPoint feels like a series of steps, but Sway feels like a journey, so it's easier to follow the flow as if you're reading naturally. For this reason, Sway does not have images ; It has a single storyline .
If you have selected a template, started with a topic or starts with an empty Sway, add
There are a variety of cards to choose from, such as text, video, grid or headline, and each one is tailor-made for a particular type of information. But unlike PowerPoint slides, the cards work seamlessly as you scroll through the finished Sway. This means that they are read as part of a narrative, not a single element.
Once you have finished your Sway, or if you want to see how it looks so far, there is a design option that will help you with the finished product.
You can browse through your Sway and move between Storylines and Design to make and review changes. Sway also helps you with the design elements when you have started to get the content you want. At the top right of the Design page is a Styles option that gives you access to layout options and the ability to "remix" your design.
 You can choose whether your swing rolls horizontally or vertically (and yes, even if individual slides if you want), the color theme, background and some other things as well. Of course, it can be difficult to know if what you have chosen will look good to others, and there are many options to choose from, so Sway will give you a Remix button that will apply a random design to your Sway. You can click on Remix as many times as you like, and it will take a while before it starts repeating patterns.
When you have your Sway as you like it can be published and shared. Remember that this is an app for cloud only, so there is no file to download, but you can embed a Sway on a web page if you want people to see it without having to go to a certain sharing link.
Sway is a simple tool that can give some good results. It is jam-packed with features that help you with the difficult design pieces so that you can focus on the content and best of all it is free. Microsoft does not always get things right, but with Sway they have created something practical, at the best possible price.