Dennis Austin, program developer who developed PowerPoint, dies at 76

Dennis Austin, who played a seminal part in shaping how information is communicated in contemporary modern society as the principal computer software developer of PowerPoint, the ubiquitous and sometimes scorned method utilized by business office personnel, instructors 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 brain, said his son, Michael Austin.

Produced in 1987 by Forethought, a compact application company, PowerPoint was the electronic successor to overhead projectors, reworking the labor-intensive course of action of building slides — a activity ordinarily assigned to design and style departments or outsourced — to one particular in which any personnel with a laptop or computer could level, click on and rearrange information with a mouse.

“Our buyers were common with desktops, but almost certainly not graphics application,” Mr. Austin wrote in an unpublished record of the software’s advancement. “They were really determined to seem their ideal in entrance of other people, but they weren’t savvy in graphics design.”

Performing along with Robert Gaskins, the Forethought executive who conceived the application, it was Mr. Austin’s career as the software package engineer to make PowerPoint (originally known as Presenter) simple to work. He attained this with a “direct-manipulation interface,” he wrote, this means that “what you are editing looks exactly like the last products.”

At first qualified for Macintosh pcs, which experienced a graphical interface, Presenter bundled strategies for people to include graphics, clip art and many fonts. In addition, the slides could be uniform with graphic borders, company logos and slide figures. The goal, Mr. Austin wrote, was “to make displays — not simply slides.”

In his reserve “Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint” (2012), Gaskins wrote that “Dennis arrived up with at least 50 percent of the key structure tips,” and was “completely dependable for the fluid general performance and the polished end of the implementation.”

“It’s a superior wager,” Gaskins extra, “that if Dennis had not been the particular person designing PowerPoint, no one would at any time have listened to of it.”

A handful of months immediately after PowerPoint debuted, Microsoft acquired Forethought for $14 million in its to start with significant acquisition. By 1993, PowerPoint was generating a lot more than $100 million in sales. Microsoft finally added PowerPoint to its rising suite of Place of work applications, including Phrase.

PowerPoint is now utilised to develop far more than 30 million presentations a day, the corporation states. But on its route to office dominance, the application has been derided by corporate executives, small business school professors and army generals for dumbing down displays into a brain-numbing morass of interminable bullet details.

“I dislike the way individuals use slide presentations in its place of wondering,” Apple’s Steve Careers mentioned in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography. “People would confront a difficulty by building a presentation. I wished them to have interaction, to hash issues out at the desk, fairly than demonstrate a bunch of slides. Men and women who know what they’re chatting about never need PowerPoint.”

He banned the software program. So did Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “And it’s almost certainly the smartest detail we ever did,” he explained at a leadership conference in 2018. In its place, Bezos built executives create narrative-fashion memos to share prior to conferences begun. (Bezos owns The Washington Submit. Interim Publish main executive Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

At the Pentagon, PowerPoint is the two pervasive and reviled.

“PowerPoint would make us silly,” Gen. Jim Mattis, secretary of defense below President Donald Trump, claimed at a 2010 army convention, according to the New York Situations in a tale about the program headlined, “We Have Fulfilled the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.”

“It’s unsafe since it can produce the illusion of comprehension and the illusion of management,” Military Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster explained to the paper. “Some difficulties in the earth are not bullet-izable.”

A commission convened by NASA to investigate the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 determined a PowerPoint slide that employed “sloppy” and “vaguely quantitative words” that obscured “life-threatening” basic safety challenges with the car.

“The Board sights the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides as a substitute of complex papers as an illustration of the problematic solutions of complex communication at NASA,” the commission’s report mentioned.

Mr. Austin and Gaskins acknowledged the complaints but imagined they had been unfairly aimed at the software and not the folks who ended up employing it to make lazy, very poor shows.

“It’s just like the printing press,” Mr. Austin instructed the Wall Road Journal in 2007. “It enabled all sorts of rubbish to be printed.”

PowerPoint’s ubiquity and specifically its facility in building tiresome, never-ending shows made it the unusual piece of software program to cross in excess of into the cultural lexicon.

The software has been satirized on “Saturday Evening Are living,” in Dilbert comic strips and by New Yorker magazine cartoonists, together with Alex Gregory, whose drawing of an executive devil interviewing a further satan is captioned, “I will need an individual nicely versed in the artwork of torture — do you know PowerPoint?”

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

He researched engineering at the University of Virginia. Though there, he labored with a place-sized personal computer safeguarded by glass. Students wrote systems on a equipment that created punch cards that were then fed into the computer by specially properly trained laptop or computer operators. The plans ran all night, and pupils returned the upcoming day to see the output.

Sooner or later, Mr. Austin befriended the operators, who authorized him guiding the glass at night time to operate straight with the equipment.

Just after graduating in 1969, he did graduate work at Arizona State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He then labored for companies which include Basic Electrical, Honeywell International, Burroughs, Nationwide Hard cash Sign-up (now NCR) and Tandem Computers.

In 1984, soon after staying laid off by a begin-up performing on battery powered laptops, Mr. Austin was employed by Forethought, which was started by two former Apple employees.

Just after Microsoft obtained Forethought, Mr. Austin ongoing to guide growth of PowerPoint. He retired in 1996.

Mr. Austin married Janet Ann Kilgore in 1972. In addition to his spouse and son, survivors involve a granddaughter and brother.

Mr. Austin’s good friends and family reported he by no means minded the jokes about PowerPoint. He was also properly conscious his software was remaining utilized for shows far further than the types he had meant it for, which include wedding ceremony proposals, teenager pitches for higher allowances and even as props in stand-up comedy routines.

In 2005, Mr. Austin was in the audience at a University of California at Berkeley function the place David Byrne, frontman of the rock band Speaking Heads, gave a PowerPoint presentation about employing the software to develop art.

“PowerPoint is the Rodney Dangerfield of software: It receives no regard,” reported Berkeley engineering professor Ken Goldberg, the event’s organizer. “It’s effortless to ridicule it for its corporate mother nature, but the genuine story is about how participatory and democratic it is. High faculty little ones use it, rabbis use it, people even use it for wedding day toasts.”