Titan Software Developer Who Produced The Backbone Of Learning In The Modern World Dead At 76

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Fiona McLoughlin Contributor
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Dennis Austin, the principal software developer of PowerPoint, died Sept. 1 at the age of 76 in his Los Altos, California home.

The cause of death was lung cancer that metastasized to the brain, his son Michael Austin said, according to the Washington Post.

Austin produced the backbone of how students, the military, the C-suite and Wall Street learn in the modern world.

PowerPoint, originally called Presenter, was released in 1987 by Forethought, a small software firm. It transformed the process of making slides which was usually assigned to design departments or outsourced. With its creation, any employee with a computer could create, point to and rearrange information, per the outlet.

Austin worked alongside Robert Gaskins, a Forethought executive, to create the software, per the outlet. It was Austin’s job to make PowerPoint easy to operate. He did this with a “direct-manipulation interface,” he wrote in an unpublished history of the software’s development, meaning that “what you are editing looks exactly like the final product.”

PowerPoint was originally created for Macintosh computers. The goal, according to Austin, was “to create presentations — not simply slides.”

Austin was “completely responsible for the fluid performance and the polished finish of the implementation,” Gaskins wrote in his book, “Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing Powerpoint.”

“It’s a good bet that if Dennis had not been the person designing PowerPoint, no one would ever have heard of it,” he added.

PowerPoint has been used in a variety of scenarios, Gaskin recounts in his book. “Now twenty-five years later, primary school children must pass exams in PowerPoint because their teachers believe that knowing it will be vital to their future success at all levels of education and in their careers.”

Sermons are delivered in church via PowerPoint. Diplomats use PowerPoint to address the United Nations. Businesses and non-profits also use it, the opening of his book notes.

Microsoft bought Forethought for $14 million a few months after PowerPoint’s debut. By 1993, PowerPoint was generating over $100 million in sales, per the Washington Post.

The software was eventually added to the Microsoft Office suite of programs. It is reportedly used to create over 30 million presentations a day, according to the company.

Despite its wide adoption, PowerPoint has been derided by corporate executives, military generals and professors for supposedly dumbing down presentations into bullet points, per the Washington Post. (RELATED: Top Pentagon Brass: PowerPoint Use Has Gotten ‘Out Of Control’).

“I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Apple’s Steve Jobs said in Walter Issacson’s 2011 biography. Jobs and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos notably banned the software in their respective companies.

Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told the New York Times, “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”