September 21, 2023

Dennis Austin, the co-creator and key software program developer of Microsoft PowerPoint, has handed away at age 76.

“Dennis R. Austin was the principal software program developer for PowerPoint from 1985 to 1996, significantly its variations for Apple Macintosh computer systems,” the outline accompanying the Pc Historical past Museum’s oral historical past explains. “Following publicity to the graphical consumer interface and broader graphical method to computing at Xerox PARC, he turned a software program developer for Gavilan Pc, earlier than becoming a member of Forethought, Inc. in late 1984. At Forethought, Robert Gaskins launched an effort to develop graphical presentation software program which turned PowerPoint, for which Gaskins labored as architect. Austin served because the principal developer for PowerPoint, contributing to its design and implementation. Tom Rudkin joined the PowerPoint mission and made vital contributions to the programming with Austin. After Microsoft acquired Forethought in 1987, Austin continued as a principal developer for PowerPoint [until] 1996.”

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Austin penned an exhaustive historical past of the creation of PowerPoint referred to as Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint. I simply bought and began studying it, however it’s solely $2.99 USD in Kindle kind. And whereas a full telling of this historical past will virtually actually make its means into this sequence’ broader narrative, it’s price highlighting just a few particulars of which many are probably unaware.

For starters, PowerPoint was initially referred to as Presenter for apparent causes, and it happened when Forethought employed Robert Gaskins to create a brand new graphical (GUI) software for the Mac in 1984. Inside a month, he had described what later turned PowerPoint—“presentation graphics for overhead projection”—an app that will be geared toward “individuals who make shows to others” and would require a “graphics PC.” It will create slide shows, speaking papers, and handouts “all from one grasp file,” and would offer define aids and quite a lot of slide sorts.

After being chosen by Gaskins, him and Austin spent a couple of 12 months additional defining PowerPoint—er, Presenter—and by the point the primary specification doc was prepared, they’d determined to make a model for Microsoft Home windows 1.0 as properly. Austin wrote the software program code for the unique model of the product for the Mac by himself till mid-1996 when a second developer, Thomas Rudkin, got here on board. The plan was to “develop first for Mac” as a result of the GUI was already obtainable after which “port the outcome to Home windows,” with the idea that that platform would catch up by “Summer season 87.”

Forefront is notable for just a few causes, amongst them that it was Apple’s first funding, in January 1987, and Microsoft’s first main company acquisition, in April 1987, only one week after the agency shipped PowerPoint 1.0 for Mac. Apparently, Microsoft co-founder Invoice Gates didn’t see the enchantment of this software program—he felt shows may very well be a function of Phrase—however acolyte Jeff Raikes satisfied him in any other case, and Microsoft spent $14 million on the acquisition.

Forefront’s total crew joined Microsoft, which created a brand new Graphics enterprise unit in its Functions division to accommodate this new sort of software. Microsoft shipped PowerPoint 2.0 for Mac in mid-1988, after which PowerPoint 3.0 for Home windows and Mac in 1992. Throughout this time, Microsoft created the primary model of its Workplace productiveness suite, for the Mac, which bundled Phrase, Excel, and PowerPoint initially.

One of many extra fascinating issues to come back out of PowerPoint and Workplace is a push within the Nineteen Nineties to consolidate the consumer interfaces of every software to match the others as intently as attainable, with the speculation being that it will make it simpler for customers to change between them. However this perception, whereas logical sufficient, was not based mostly on any analysis or testing, and it was later disproven. Regardless, the Workplace purposes share related UIs to this present day, regardless of the inherent variations in every instrument.

Likewise, PowerPoint has had as many detracts as followers, seemingly, with folks like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs infamously banning the software program of their corporations. (Jobs, in his typical hypocritical customized, later pushed Apple to create its personal presentation software program.) It has been the butt of jokes in the whole lot from cartoons to Saturday Evening Reside.

As for Austin, he caught with Microsoft and led PowerPoint improvement till he retired in 1996.

In case you’re within the historical past of PowerPoint, I like to recommend the previously-mentioned guide, Robert Gaskin’s unimaginable web site, which comprises a wealthy archive of PowerPoint-related data, and the Pc Historical past Museum’s video interview, Oral Historical past of Dennis R. Austin.