Dennis Austin, one of the two creators of Microsoft PowerPoint, passed away at the age of 76. Austin created PowerPoint with Robert Gaskins and released it in 1987. The pair of software developers were part of software company Forethought, which was acquired by Microsoft for $14m months after PowerPoint, then called Presenter was launched.
Initially only available for the Macintosh, PowerPoint soon gained popularity as an alternative to overhead projectors for presentations after it was bundled with other tools in the Microsoft Office suite, including Word and Excel.
Today, 33 years after it was first launched on Windows, the Silicon Valley software has become ubiquitous in meetings, classrooms and online collaborations with a near-monopoly over the global presentation software market.
Before PowerPoint, creating individual slides or transparencies to show colleagues in meetings could take hours. Digitising the process so that people could properly demonstrate their ideas in a fraction of the time became a gamechanger.
Career of Dennis R. Austin
- Dennis R. Austin was the principal software developer for PowerPoint from 1985 to 1996, particularly its versions for Apple Macintosh computers. Austin first encountered computers in high school at a summer program at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. His interest in programming languages and compilers deepened during his undergraduate engineering studies at the University of Virginia in the late 1960s.
- Austin’s career in software began at General Electric’s computer division in Arizona, followed by positions with Honeywell in Massachusetts and Burroughs in California. Following exposure to the graphical user interface and broader graphical approach to computing at Xerox PARC, he became a software developer for Gavilan Computer, before joining Forethought, Inc. in late 1984.
- At Forethought, Robert Gaskins launched an effort to develop graphical presentation software which became PowerPoint, for which Gaskins worked as architect. Austin served as the principal developer for PowerPoint, contributing to its design and implementation. Tom Rudkin joined the PowerPoint project and made significant contributions to the programming with Austin. After Microsoft acquired Forethought in 1987, Austin continued as a principal developer for PowerPoint to 1996. This oral history of Austin focuses on his experiences in creating software, most especially PowerPoint.