Dennis Austin, software package developer who designed PowerPoint, dies at 76

Dennis Austin, who played a seminal job in shaping how details is communicated in modern modern society as the principal program developer of PowerPoint, the ubiquitous and sometimes scorned software used by office personnel, 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, claimed his son, Michael Austin.

Launched in 1987 by Forethought, a tiny software organization, PowerPoint was the electronic successor to overhead projectors, transforming the labor-intense course of action of making slides — a activity commonly assigned to style departments or outsourced — to just one in which any worker with a pc could level, click and rearrange info with a mouse.

“Our end users ended up common with computers, but almost certainly not graphics application,” Mr. Austin wrote in an unpublished background of the software’s improvement. “They have been hugely enthusiastic to glance their best in entrance of other folks, but they weren’t savvy in graphics style.”

Working alongside Robert Gaskins, the Forethought executive who conceived the software, it was Mr. Austin’s career as the computer software engineer to make PowerPoint (originally called Presenter) simple to function. He attained this with a “direct-manipulation interface,” he wrote, which means that “what you are enhancing appears to be particularly like the final solution.”

Originally targeted for Macintosh computer systems, which experienced a graphical interface, Presenter incorporated techniques for consumers to include graphics, clip art and many fonts. In addition, the slides could be uniform with graphic borders, corporate logos and slide figures. The objective, Mr. Austin wrote, was “to build shows — not simply slides.”

In his e-book “Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint” (2012), Gaskins wrote that “Dennis came up with at the very least 50 % of the major layout concepts,” and was “completely accountable for the fluid performance and the polished end of the implementation.”

“It’s a excellent guess,” Gaskins added, “that if Dennis experienced not been the individual coming up with PowerPoint, no just one would at any time have read of it.”

A couple months right after PowerPoint debuted, Microsoft purchased Forethought for $14 million in its to start with significant acquisition. By 1993, PowerPoint was generating more than $100 million in sales. Microsoft eventually additional PowerPoint to its emerging suite of Business office programs, such as Word.

PowerPoint is now applied to create much more than 30 million presentations a working day, the business states. But on its path to place of work dominance, the software program has been derided by corporate executives, organization college professors and army generals for dumbing down shows into a intellect-numbing morass of interminable bullet factors.

“I detest the way persons use slide presentations in its place of contemplating,” Apple’s Steve Careers claimed in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography. “People would confront a challenge by building a presentation. I wanted them to have interaction, to hash items out at the table, fairly than present a bunch of slides. Folks who know what they are conversing about really don’t want PowerPoint.”

He banned the software package. So did Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “And it’s almost certainly the smartest issue we at any time did,” he explained at a leadership meeting in 2018. In its place, Bezos designed executives produce narrative-model memos to share in advance of meetings started out. (Bezos owns The Washington Post. Interim Post main government Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

At the Pentagon, PowerPoint is equally pervasive and reviled.

“PowerPoint would make us stupid,” Gen. Jim Mattis, secretary of protection underneath President Donald Trump, said at a 2010 armed service meeting, according to the New York Occasions in a tale about the application headlined, “We Have Satisfied the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.”

“It’s unsafe because it can make the illusion of being familiar with and the illusion of manage,” Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster informed the paper. “Some troubles in the environment are not bullet-izable.”

A commission convened by NASA to investigate the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 identified a PowerPoint slide that applied “sloppy” and “vaguely quantitative words” that obscured “life-threatening” safety issues with the auto.

“The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of complex papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technological conversation at NASA,” the commission’s report said.

Mr. Austin and Gaskins acknowledged the issues but believed they were being unfairly aimed at the application and not the men and women who have been utilizing it to make lazy, bad displays.

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

PowerPoint’s ubiquity and particularly its facility in generating tiresome, endless presentations created it the uncommon piece of software program to cross more than into the cultural lexicon.

The software has been satirized on “Saturday Night Stay,” in Dilbert comic strips and by New Yorker journal cartoonists, like Alex Gregory, whose drawing of an govt satan interviewing a different satan is captioned, “I want someone effectively versed in the artwork of torture — do you know PowerPoint?”

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

He examined engineering at the University of Virginia. While there, he labored with a home-sized laptop or computer secured by glass. Pupils wrote systems on a equipment that produced punch cards that were being then fed into the personal computer by specifically trained laptop or computer operators. The programs ran all night time, and students returned the upcoming working day to see the output.

Sooner or later, Mr. Austin befriended the operators, who permitted him at the rear of the glass at evening to get the job done directly with the machine.

Right after graduating in 1969, he did graduate perform at Arizona State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Engineering and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He then labored for firms which includes Common Electric, Honeywell Intercontinental, Burroughs, Nationwide Funds Sign up (now NCR) and Tandem Pcs.

In 1984, following currently being laid off by a start-up performing on battery driven laptops, Mr. Austin was hired by Forethought, which was founded by two previous Apple workers.

Right after Microsoft obtained Forethought, Mr. Austin continued to direct progress of PowerPoint. He retired in 1996.

Mr. Austin married Janet Ann Kilgore in 1972. In addition to his wife and son, survivors include things like a granddaughter and brother.

Mr. Austin’s mates and family mentioned he hardly ever minded the jokes about PowerPoint. He was also effectively knowledgeable his software program was becoming applied for presentations far past the types he had intended it for, including wedding proposals, teen pitches for larger allowances and even as props in stand-up comedy routines.

In 2005, Mr. Austin was in the audience at a College of California at Berkeley celebration wherever David Byrne, frontman of the rock band Conversing Heads, gave a PowerPoint presentation about working with the program to produce artwork.

“PowerPoint is the Rodney Dangerfield of software program: It will get no respect,” said Berkeley engineering professor Ken Goldberg, the event’s organizer. “It’s quick to ridicule it for its corporate mother nature, but the true story is about how participatory and democratic it is. Superior school kids use it, rabbis use it, folks even use it for marriage ceremony toasts.”