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Dennis Austin, software developer who created PowerPoint, dies at 76

Dennis Austin, who performed a seminal function in shaping how info is communicated in fashionable society because the principal software program developer of PowerPoint, the ever present and sometimes scorned program employed by workplace employees, lecturers and bureaucrats, died Sept. 1 at his dwelling in Los Altos, Calif. He was 76.

The trigger was lung most cancers that metastasized to the mind, mentioned his son, Michael Austin.

Launched in 1987 by Forethought, a small software program agency, PowerPoint was the digital successor to overhead projectors, reworking the labor-intensive course of of making slides — a job sometimes assigned to design departments or outsourced — to 1 the place any worker with a pc may level, click on and rearrange info with a mouse.

“Our customers had been acquainted with computer systems, however in all probability not graphics software program,” Mr. Austin wrote in an unpublished historical past of the software program’s improvement. “They had been extremely motivated to look their greatest in entrance of others, however they weren’t savvy in graphics design.”

Working alongside Robert Gaskins, the Forethought government who conceived the software program, it was Mr. Austin’s job because the software program engineer to make PowerPoint (initially referred to as Presenter) simple to function. He achieved this with a “direct-manipulation interface,” he wrote, which means that “what you’re modifying appears precisely like the ultimate product.”

Initially focused for Macintosh computer systems, which had a graphical interface, Presenter included methods for customers to include graphics, clip artwork and a number of fonts. As well as, the slides could possibly be uniform with graphic borders, company logos and slide numbers. The aim, Mr. Austin wrote, was “to create displays — not merely slides.”

In his e-book “Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint” (2012), Gaskins wrote that “Dennis got here up with a minimum of half of the foremost design concepts,” and was “utterly accountable for the fluid efficiency and the polished end of the implementation.”

“It’s an excellent guess,” Gaskins added, “that if Dennis had not been the individual designing PowerPoint, nobody would ever have heard of it.”

Just a few months after PowerPoint debuted, Microsoft purchased Forethought for $14 million in its first main acquisition. By 1993, PowerPoint was producing greater than $100 million in gross sales. Microsoft ultimately added PowerPoint to its rising suite of Workplace applications, together with Phrase.

PowerPoint is now used to create greater than 30 million displays a day, the corporate says. However on its path to office dominance, the software program has been derided by company executives, enterprise college professors and army generals for dumbing down displays right into a mind-numbing morass of interminable bullet factors.

“I hate the best way folks use slide displays as an alternative of pondering,” Apple’s Steve Jobs mentioned in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography. “Individuals would confront an issue by making a presentation. I needed them to have interaction, to hash issues out on the desk, fairly than present a bunch of slides. Individuals who know what they’re speaking about don’t want PowerPoint.”

He banned the software program. So did Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “And it’s in all probability the neatest factor we ever did,” he mentioned at a management convention in 2018. As a substitute, Bezos made executives write narrative-style memos to share earlier than conferences began. (Bezos owns The Washington Submit. Interim Submit chief government Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

On the Pentagon, PowerPoint is each pervasive and reviled.

“PowerPoint makes us silly,” Gen. Jim Mattis, secretary of protection beneath President Donald Trump, mentioned at a 2010 army convention, in response to the New York Instances in a narrative concerning the software program headlined, “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.”

“It’s harmful as a result of it may create the phantasm of understanding and the phantasm of management,” Military Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster informed the paper. “Some issues on the earth will not be bullet-izable.”

A fee convened by NASA to research the disintegration of the house shuttle Columbia in 2003 recognized a PowerPoint slide that used “sloppy” and “vaguely quantitative phrases” that obscured “life-threatening” questions of safety with the car.

“The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides as an alternative of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic strategies of technical communication at NASA,” the fee’s report mentioned.

Mr. Austin and Gaskins acknowledged the complaints, however thought they had been unfairly aimed on the software program and never the individuals who had been utilizing it to make lazy, poor displays.

“It’s identical to the printing press,” Mr. Austin informed the Wall Avenue Journal in 2007. “It enabled all kinds of rubbish to be printed.”

PowerPoint’s ubiquity and particularly its facility in creating tedious, never-ending displays made it the uncommon piece of software program to cross over into the cultural lexicon.

This system has been satirized on “Saturday Evening Dwell,” in Dilbert comedian strips and by New Yorker journal cartoonists, together with Alex Gregory, whose drawing of an government satan interviewing one other satan is captioned, “I want somebody properly versed within the artwork of torture — have you learnt PowerPoint?”

Dennis Robert Austin was born in Pittsburgh on Could 28, 1947, and grew up within the suburb of Rosslyn Farms. His father ran an affiliation for executives, and his mom was a typist and later a homemaker.

He studied engineering on the College of Virginia. Whereas there, he labored with a room-sized pc protected by glass. College students wrote applications on a machine that generated punch playing cards that had been then fed into the pc by specifically educated pc operators. The applications ran all evening, and college students returned the subsequent day to see the output.

Finally, Mr. Austin befriended the operators, who allowed him behind the glass at evening to work instantly with the machine.

After graduating in 1969, he did graduate work at Arizona State College, the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise and the College of California at Santa Barbara. He then labored for corporations together with Basic Electrical, Honeywell Worldwide, Burroughs, Nationwide Money Register (now NCR) and Tandem Computer systems.

In 1984, after being laid off by a start-up engaged on battery powered laptops, Mr. Austin was employed by Forethought, which was based by two former Apple workers.

After Microsoft acquired Forethought, Mr. Austin continued to guide improvement of PowerPoint. He retired in 1996.

Mr. Austin married Janet Ann Kilgore in 1972. Along with his spouse and son, survivors embody a granddaughter and brother.

Mr. Austin’s family and friends mentioned he by no means minded the jokes about PowerPoint. He was additionally properly conscious his software program was getting used for displays far past those he had supposed it for, together with wedding ceremony proposals, teenager pitches for larger allowances and whilst props in stand-up comedy routines.

In 2005, Mr. Austin was within the viewers at a College of California at Berkeley occasion the place David Byrne, frontman of the rock band Speaking Heads, gave a PowerPoint presentation about utilizing the software program to create artwork.

“PowerPoint is the Rodney Dangerfield of software program: It will get no respect,” Berkeley engineering professor Ken Goldberg, the occasion’s organizer, mentioned. “It’s simple to ridicule it for its company nature, however the actual story is about how participatory and democratic it’s. Highschool children use it, rabbis use it, folks even use it for wedding ceremony toasts.”




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