Dennis Austin, the Software Developer of PowerPoint, Dies At 76

The Washington Post reports:
Dennis Austin, the principal software developer of PowerPoint, passed away from lung cancer on Sept. 1. He was 76.

Released in 1987 by Forethought, a small software firm, PowerPoint was the digital successor to overhead projectors, transforming the labor-intensive process of creating slides -- a task typically assigned to design departments or outsourced -- to one where any employee with a computer could point, click and rearrange information with a mouse. "Our users were familiar with computers, but probably not graphics software," Mr. Austin wrote in an unpublished history of the software's development. "They were highly motivated to look their best in front of others, but they weren't savvy in graphics design."

Working alongside Robert Gaskins, the Forethought executive who conceived the software, it was Mr. Austin's job as the software engineer to make PowerPoint (originally called Presenter) easy to operate. He accomplished this with a "direct-manipulation interface," he wrote, meaning that "what you are editing looks exactly like the final product." Originally targeted for Macintosh computers, which had a graphical interface, Presenter included ways for users to incorporate graphics, clip art and multiple fonts. In addition, the slides could be uniform with graphic borders, corporate logos and slide numbers. The goal, Mr. Austin wrote, was "to create presentations -- not simply slides."

In his book "Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint" (2012), Gaskins wrote that "Dennis came up with at least half of the major design ideas," and was "completely responsible for the fluid performance and the polished finish of the implementation." "It's a good bet," Gaskins added, "that if Dennis had not been the person designing PowerPoint, no one would ever have heard of it."


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