Looking at pictures of the family picnic can get pretty boring as you open one file, close it and open the next picture file. Wouldn’t it be cooler if you can create your own slideshow – displaying one picture after another, in sequence and at the pace you choose? It makes sense to viewers, that’s for sure. Especially if we’re talking about an instructional slideshow or a professional looking business presentation.

You want to look good and you want the visual information properly sequenced and paced to suit your purposes, whether it’s to entertain, educate or to show a new employee how to insert Tab A into Slot B.

You can purchase slideshow software but why would you when there are so many open source software apps and tools available, as in FREE. Here are some of my favorites. Try them. One of them will become your favorite. Guaranteed.

  • Smilebox

I’m amazed at how deep in features Smilebox is. Almost everything is possible with it:

  • Choose from 100s of predesigned templates
  • Design a slideshow for a specific occasion like a birthday or wedding reception
  • Integrate stills, digital video clips, narration and even a music bed and sound FX
  • With just a few clicks, the finished slideshow can be emailed, printed or burned to a DVD
  • Simply browse your way to better-looking presentations by importing any file type

The interface is totally user friendly, making it easy to upload files and place them on the time line. You can also mix audio to create a narrated presentation complete with music – all in just a few minutes.

Smilebox is perfect for making personalized e-cards, online scrapbooks, photo albums, business quality presentations for upload to a client’s site – the list is endless.

And the cost? Zip. You’ll love how easy Smilebox makes slideshow creation. Even more, you’ll love how good your pictures look – especially when you provide a little narration to describe each shot.

Smilebox is one cool, photo sharing tool.

  • Photozig

Photozig does deliver a robust slideshow creator but there’s more to this download than putting on a good looking slideshow. It is also a great tool for organizing your picture files, using a “slide tray” to display all of your images. You can save pictures to different folders, create multimedia presentations, download complete folder contents to the time line for easy picture manipulation and edit your pictures with a centering and crop tool that lets you show your best side.

In addition, you can create screensavers, wallpapers, documents, DVDs and CDs with Photozig. It has been a while since I used Photozig, and every time I do, I discover more and more features.

This slideshow editor gets two thumbs up from this reviewer.

  • Microsoft’s Photo Story 3

You know MS has to stake a claim in the photo editing realm and Photo Story 3 puts Microsoft on my “best of” list for the simple reason that it configures seamlessly with other Microsoft apps. It’s made by MS so it works with all other Microsoft image manipulation tools running in Windows XP.

The basic, home edition is pretty robust, but if you’re serious about your presentations, Microsoft also offers an MS Media Center edition, a special net book edition and a somewhat pricey professional edition for businesses that need more than PowerPoint.

The pro version is more than you need to create a slideshow for grandma, but for professionals who blog or otherwise work in the web world, Photo Story 3 puts control of your pix in your hands.

Try it, all you fans of MS. You’ll like the way it syncs up with all your other Microsoft tools.

  • PhotoStage

PhotoStage is made by NCH Software and it comes with a basketful of goodies.

First, there’s a complete, intuitive photo editor that simplifies preloading – something you’ll appreciate and a feature missing from some other free slideshow creators. You can zoom in or out, crop images, auto enhance and otherwise manipulate your pictures to suit your artistic preferences or your instructional needs. And it’s easy to use the PhotoStage editor.

Secondly, you can burn your slideshow to DVD to view on TV monitors (including high-def flat screen monitors) or PSPs, send your slide show to any mobile device automatically, embed videos, and more.

Last but not least, PhotoStage is 100% compatible with Vista-based applications. You can add 100s of different pictures to create visual interest and keep your audience engaged, while looking every bit the professional in the process with a full slate of transition options.

Fun, fast and simple. This MS based slide sorter is a favorite.

  • Picasa

Most bloggers are familiar with Picasa – part of the Google Apps suite. Photo Story is Google’s response to the Microsoft product line and, I must say, it’s a handy little tool to download. FREE.

Unlike a lot of other OSS image creation software, Picasa has a lot of editing options that simplify photo editing and slideshow creation. For example, there’s an Auto Color option that optimizes the colors, even in scanned images in low res formats like gifs.

Picasa comes with an Auto Contrast feature, a Redeye compensator, a simple alignment tool, a border creation tool, templates and other fun stuff to simplify slideshow creation and photo editing.

I especially recommend Picasa for those shutterbugs who are using older digital cameras with lower res than the standards of today. The automated enhancement features “fill-in” the holes in your source materials making lower res images crystal clear. You’ll never have to delete an older photo. Just open it in Picasa, click the auto enhance features and even your old pix will pop on any HD screen.

I’ve used all of these tools for different purposes – from creating a family photo album to creating slideshows for enterprise tier corporate clients. Check ‘em out. One of these is perfect, whatever your slideshow creation needs.