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

Dennis Austin, who performed a seminal position in shaping how information and facts is communicated in modern society as the principal program developer of PowerPoint, the ubiquitous and from time to time scorned method utilized by office environment personnel, instructors and bureaucrats, died Sept. 1 at his household in Los Altos, Calif. He was 76.

The bring about was lung most cancers that metastasized to the mind, explained his son, Michael Austin.

Released in 1987 by Forethought, a compact application firm, PowerPoint was the electronic successor to overhead projectors, transforming the labor-intense course of action of creating slides — a undertaking normally assigned to structure departments or outsourced — to one particular in which any staff with a personal computer could place, simply click and rearrange facts with a mouse.

“Our people ended up common with personal computers, but likely not graphics program,” Mr. Austin wrote in an unpublished heritage of the software’s enhancement. “They have been remarkably determined to glimpse their greatest in entrance of others, but they weren’t savvy in graphics structure.”

Performing alongside Robert Gaskins, the Forethought government who conceived the software program, it was Mr. Austin’s position as the application engineer to make PowerPoint (at first referred to as Presenter) effortless to operate. He accomplished this with a “direct-manipulation interface,” he wrote, indicating that “what you are modifying appears particularly like the final products.”

Originally specific for Macintosh personal computers, which had a graphical interface, Presenter incorporated strategies for consumers to include graphics, clip artwork and multiple fonts. In addition, the slides could be uniform with graphic borders, company logos and slide numbers. The objective, Mr. Austin wrote, was “to generate displays — not basically slides.”

In his e-book “Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint” (2012), Gaskins wrote that “Dennis arrived up with at minimum 50 percent of the significant layout tips,” and was “completely liable for the fluid effectiveness and the polished end of the implementation.”

“It’s a superior wager,” Gaskins included, “that if Dennis had not been the man or woman planning PowerPoint, no a single would ever have listened to of it.”

A several months after PowerPoint debuted, Microsoft bought Forethought for $14 million in its initially significant acquisition. By 1993, PowerPoint was making additional than $100 million in revenue. Microsoft sooner or later included PowerPoint to its rising suite of Workplace plans, which include Phrase.

PowerPoint is now applied to develop extra than 30 million displays a day, the company suggests. But on its path to workplace dominance, the software package has been derided by corporate executives, small business school professors and armed forces generals for dumbing down displays into a intellect-numbing morass of interminable bullet details.

“I dislike the way persons use slide displays as an alternative of thinking,” Apple’s Steve Positions stated in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography. “People would confront a trouble by building a presentation. I wished them to engage, to hash factors out at the table, relatively than demonstrate a bunch of slides. Men and women who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

He banned the software. So did Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “And it is most likely the smartest detail we at any time did,” he reported at a management convention in 2018. As a substitute, Bezos designed executives produce narrative-design and style memos to share prior to conferences started off. (Bezos owns The Washington Publish. Interim Article chief executive Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

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

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. Jim Mattis, secretary of defense less than President Donald Trump, explained at a 2010 army meeting, according to the New York Times in a story about the software headlined, “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.”

“It’s perilous due to the fact it can create the illusion of knowledge and the illusion of control,” Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster informed the paper. “Some complications in the world are not bullet-izable.”

A fee convened by NASA to look into the disintegration of the house shuttle Columbia in 2003 determined a PowerPoint slide that utilized “sloppy” and “vaguely quantitative words” that obscured “life-threatening” basic safety problems with the automobile.

“The Board sights the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of specialized papers as an illustration of the problematic strategies of technological communication at NASA,” the commission’s report said.

Mr. Austin and Gaskins acknowledged the complaints but imagined they have been unfairly aimed at the computer software and not the men and women who ended up working with it to make lazy, lousy shows.

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

PowerPoint’s ubiquity and especially its facility in developing tedious, unending shows produced it the uncommon piece of software package to cross above into the cultural lexicon.

The method has been satirized on “Saturday Night Are living,” in Dilbert comedian strips and by New Yorker magazine cartoonists, which includes Alex Gregory, whose drawing of an government satan interviewing one more satan is captioned, “I need someone properly 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 association for executives, and his mother was a typist and later on a homemaker.

He analyzed engineering at the University of Virginia. Even though there, he labored with a place-sized computer system shielded by glass. Students wrote programs on a device that generated punch cards that were being then fed into the laptop by specially trained laptop operators. The programs ran all night, and students returned the next working day to see the output.

Finally, Mr. Austin befriended the operators, who authorized him driving the glass at night to work specifically with the device.

Right after graduating in 1969, he did graduate function at Arizona State College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technological know-how and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He then worked for organizations together with Normal Electrical, Honeywell Intercontinental, Burroughs, Nationwide Income Sign up (now NCR) and Tandem Computers.

In 1984, just after remaining laid off by a start out-up doing the job on battery driven laptops, Mr. Austin was employed by Forethought, which was started by two former Apple workforce.

Right after Microsoft acquired Forethought, Mr. Austin ongoing to direct development 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 close friends and family members mentioned he by no means minded the jokes about PowerPoint. He was also nicely informed his software program was getting utilised for shows significantly outside of the types he experienced supposed it for, which includes wedding day 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 College of California at Berkeley occasion in which David Byrne, frontman of the rock band Chatting Heads, gave a PowerPoint presentation about applying the application to produce artwork.

“PowerPoint is the Rodney Dangerfield of application: It will get no respect,” reported Berkeley engineering professor Ken Goldberg, the event’s organizer. “It’s easy to ridicule it for its company mother nature, but the authentic story is about how participatory and democratic it is. Substantial school little ones use it, rabbis use it, people today even use it for wedding toasts.”