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

Dennis Austin, who performed a seminal position in shaping how data is communicated in trendy 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 residence in Los Altos, Calif. He was 76.

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

Launched in 1987 by Forethought, a small software program agency, PowerPoint was the digital successor to overhead projectors, remodeling the labor-intensive course of of making slides — a process usually assigned to design departments or outsourced — to at least one the place any worker with a pc may level, click on and rearrange data with a mouse.

“Our customers had been aware of computer systems, however most likely 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 Austin wrote in an unpublished historical past of the software program’s improvement.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 govt who conceived the software program, it was Mr. Austin’s job because the software program engineer to make PowerPoint (initially known as Presenter) straightforward to function. He completed this with a “direct-manipulation interface,” he wrote, that means that “what you’re modifying seems 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 might be uniform with graphic borders, company logos and slide numbers. The purpose, Mr. Austin wrote, was “to create displays — not merely slides.”

In his guide “Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint” (2012), Gaskins wrote that “Dennis got here up with at the very least half of the most important design concepts,” and was “utterly chargeable for the fluid efficiency and the polished end of the implementation.”

“It’s wager,” 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 faculty professors and navy generals for dumbing down displays right into a mind-numbing morass of interminable bullet factors.

“I hate the best way individuals use slide displays as a substitute of considering,” Apple’s Steve Jobs stated in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography. “Folks 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 most likely the neatest factor we ever did,” he stated 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 Publish. Interim Publish chief govt 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, stated at a 2010 navy convention, in keeping with 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 could actually create the phantasm of understanding and the phantasm of management,” Military Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster informed the paper. “Some issues on the planet are usually not bullet-izable.”

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

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

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 Road Journal in 2007. “It enabled all types of rubbish to be printed.”

PowerPoint’s ubiquity and particularly its facility in creating tedious, endless displays made it the uncommon piece of software program to cross over into the cultural lexicon.

This system has been satirized on “Saturday Night time Dwell,” in Dilbert comedian strips and by New Yorker journal cartoonists, together with Alex Gregory, whose drawing of an govt satan interviewing one other satan is captioned, “I want somebody nicely 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 night time, and college students returned the subsequent day to see the output.

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

After graduating in 1969, he did graduate work at Arizona State College, the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how and the College of California at Santa Barbara. He then labored for firms together with Normal 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 staff.

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 stated he by no means minded the jokes about PowerPoint. He was additionally nicely 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 greater 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, stated. “It’s straightforward 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, individuals even use it for wedding ceremony toasts.”

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