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Dennis Austin, the co-creator of PowerPoint, has passed away at the age of 76

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Dennis Austin, the co-creator of the PowerPoint presentation software that was quickly acquired by Microsoft just months after its launch, has passed away. The Washington Post reported that Austin died on September 1 of complications from lung cancer at the age of 76 at his home in Los Altos, California.

Austin wrote his account of the creation of PowerPoint It can be read at ComputerHistory.org (in PDF format). Austin was hired by Silicon Valley software company Forethought in October 1984 by Vice President of Product Development Robert Gaskins. The company produced software for Apple’s Macintosh computers but was in financial trouble.

Austin wrote that the company was trying to develop a presentation software application, based on Gaskins’ idea. Eventually, Austin and Gaskins worked together on the app. Austin wrote:

The details of the product design required a lot of invention. Bob was able to spend many hours with me brainstorming ideas. It was a productive process and the quality of my designs reflected Bob’s support and feedback. I compared our collaboration to a building design project: Bob wanted to build a dream house and I was his architect.

The application had the working name Presenter, and as the name suggests it was designed not only to show slides but to create presentations. Austin wrote:

This should allow the production of different presentation materials from one master file. This will include both presentation slides (transparencies on top, but also on-screen presentations, and perhaps eventually 35mm slides) and printed handouts. The potential high quality of the output should be matched by high-resolution graphics and sets-quality text.

Dennis Austin

As the development of Presenter progressed, the company searched for a new and better name. Austin wrote:

On a business trip, Bob looked out the airplane window and noted the runway sign “Power Point” just before takeoff. The name cleared the trademark search and in no time we had the finishing touches on the About PowerPoint window for the new product.

PowerPoint 1.0 was released on April 20, 1987 for the Macintosh. In August 1987, Microsoft purchased Forethought and the rights to PowerPoint for $14 million. It was the company’s first major purchase and it turned out to be a good one. The software continues to be widely used, and the Washington Post notes that it is used to make 30 million presentations a day, according to Microsoft. Austin continued to work on PowerPoint as part of Microsoft until he retired in 1996.

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