One of the most elegant, most influential and most groaned-about pieces of software in the history of computers is 20 years old. There won’t be a lot of birthday celebrations for PowerPoint; the program is one the world loves to mock almost as much as it loves to use.
While PowerPoint has served as the metronome for countless crisp presentations, it has also allowed an endless expanse of dimwit ideas to be dressed up with graphical respectability. And not just in conference rooms, but also in the likes of sixth-grade book reports and at PowerPointSermons.com.
As it happens, what might be called the downside of the culture of PowerPoint is something that bemuses, concerns and occasionally appalls PowerPoint’s two creators as much as it does everyone else.
Robert Gaskins was the visionary entrepreneur who in the mid-1980s realized that the huge but largely invisible market for preparing business slides was a perfect match for the coming generation of graphics-oriented computers. Scores of venture capitalists disagreed, insisting that text-based DOS machines would never go away.
With major programming done by Dennis Austin, an old chum, PowerPoint 1.0 for Macs came out in 1987. Later that year, Microsoft bought the company for $14 million, its first acquisition, and three years later a Windows version followed.
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