Walking into the anteroom to bear the accent was a “daunting experience,” the apostle afterwards recalled, but “we had projectors and all sorts of technology to advice us make the case.” The technology in catechism was PowerPoint, the presentation software produced by Microsoft. The apostle was Colin Powell, afresh the U.S. Secretary of State.
Powell’s 45 slides displayed snippets of text, and some were adorned with photos or maps. A few alike had anchored video clips. During the 75-minute speech, the tech formed perfectly. Years later, Powell would recall, “When I was through, I acquainted appealing acceptable about it.”
The aim of his speech, afore the Affiliated Nations Security Council on 5 February 2003, was to altercate the Bush administration’s final case for war with Iraq in a “powerful way.” In that, he succeeded. While the admiral had already absitively to go to war, Powell’s speech—inseparable from what would become one of the best acclaimed PowerPoint presentations of all time—did nothing to derail the plan. The afterward month, the Affiliated States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland launched their invasion.
“Evasion and Deception”: In a 2003 accent to the Affiliated Nations Security Council, afresh U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell fabricated the case for activity to war with Iraq. The accompanying PowerPoint slides included accessory adumbration [top] that Powell said showed abstruse assignment on actinic and biological weapons.
Powell’s accent dramatized how PowerPoint had become, by 2003, a nearly assured apparatus of advice and alignment in abundant of the world. Back then, its ascendancy has abandoned become added complete. The aforementioned apparatus acclimated by U.S. State Administration and CIA admiral to axis an all-embracing affiliation adjoin war is additionally acclimated by schoolchildren to accord classroom letters on planets, penguins, and poets. Microsoft accurately boasts of 1.2 billion copies of PowerPoint at large—one archetype for every seven bodies on earth. In any accustomed month, about 200 million of these copies are used, and although nobody’s absolutely counting, our accumulative bearing of PowerPoint slides absolutely alcove able-bodied into the billions. So abstruse is PowerPoint’s admission that arresting abstracts accept decried the software’s furnishings on cerebration itself. Edward Tufte, the authority of advice visualization, has famously railed adjoin the “cognitive style” of PowerPoint, which he characterizes as accepting a “foreshortening of affirmation and thought” and a “deeply hierarchical single-path structure.”
PowerPoint is so built-in in avant-garde activity that the angle of it accepting a history at all may assume odd. But it does accept a absolute audible lifetime as a bartering artefact that came assimilate the amphitheatre 30 years ago, in 1987. Remarkably, the founders of the Silicon Valley close that created PowerPoint did not set out to accomplish presentation software, let abandoned body a apparatus that would transform accumulation advice throughout the world. Rather, PowerPoint was a accretion from abject hopes that pulled a disturbing startup aback from the border of failure—and succeeded above annihilation its creators could accept imagined.
PowerPoint was not the aboriginal software for creating presentations on claimed computers. Starting in 1982, almost a half-dozen added programs [PDF] came on the bazaar afore PowerPoint’s 1987 debut. Its closing ascendancy was not the aftereffect of first-mover advantage. What’s more, some of its best accustomed features—the axial burden of a accelerate absolute argument and graphics; bulleted lists; the slideshow; the accelerate sorter; and alike the activated transitions amid slides—did not arise with PowerPoint. And yet it’s become the Kleenex or Scotch Tape of presentation software, as a “PowerPoint” has arise to beggarly any presentation created with software.
With PowerPoint as able-bodied as its predecessors, the burden of the accelerate was, of course, aerial anon from the apple of photography. Some presentation programs absolutely generated 35-mm slides for affectation with a accelerate projector. In best cases, though, the aboriginal programs created slides that were printed on cardboard for assimilation into reports, transferred to transparencies for use on aerial projectors, or adored as agenda files to be displayed on computer monitors.
The aftereffect was that claimed computer users of the 1980s, abnormally business users, had abounding options, and the bazaar for business software was undergoing hypergrowth, with programs for breeding spreadsheets, documents, databases, and business cartoon anniversary basic a multimillion-dollar category. At the time, commentators saw the admeasurement of business software as a new appearance in appointment automation, in which computer use was overextension above the accounting administration and the accounting basin to the appointment elites. Both the absurd and absolute users of the new business software were white-collar workers, from midlevel managers to Mahogany Row executives.
PowerPoint appropriately emerged during a aeon in which claimed accretion was demography over the American office. A above accelerant was the IBM Claimed Computer, which Big Blue apparent in 1981. By then, authoritative America—corporate and government alike—was able-bodied acclimatized to affairs its computers from IBM. This new cast of machine, anon accepted artlessly as the PC, advance through offices like wildfire.
The background for that aggression had been laid the antecedent decade, in the 1970s technosocial eyes of the “office of the future.” It started, like so abundant of what we now booty for accepted in our abreast apple of networked claimed computing, at Xerox’s allegorical Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) [PDF]. The armpit was accustomed in 1970 to ad-lib the accretion systems that would accouter the future’s white-collar office, an amphitheatre the aggregation hoped to boss in the aforementioned way it did photocopying. Abounding of the ablaze adolescent computer scientists and engineers recruited to assignment at PARC knew one addition from the above computer science programs adjourned by the Administration of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, UC Berkeley, the University of Utah, and SRI.
In 1972, PARC advisers began to focus on a new claimed computer they alleged the Alto. Led by Alan Kay, Butler Lampson, Bob Taylor, and Chuck Thacker, they were captivated by an amazing idea: that in the appointment of the future, every alone would accept a committed computer like the Alto. Moreover, these computers would be networked to one addition and to other, above computers, both locally and far away. This networking would anatomy a web of advice and accretion assets able-bodied above the accommodation of any distinct claimed computer. In the following of this vision, Ethernet emerged, as did the PARC Universal Packet agreement [PDF], or PUP, an important antecedent of the TCP/IP accepted of today’s Internet.
The Alto’s creators emphasized the machine’s cartoon capabilities, dedicating abundant of the computer’s accouterments and software to apprehension high-resolution adumbration onscreen, including typography, drawings, agenda photographs, and animations. It was a huge footfall up from the boilerplate computers of the day, which still acclimated bite cards, cardboard printouts, teletypes, and “dumb” terminals. Alto users interacted with it through a graphical interface to access, generate, and dispense information. Alike the argument was advised as an image. The computer was controlled through a accepted keyboard and the then-novel abrasion that had emerged from Doug Engelbart’s SRI laboratory.
This graphical about-face in accretion was conceivably best arresting in one of the Alto’s programming languages, alleged Smalltalk. Developed by Kay, Dan Ingalls, Adele Goldberg, and added collaborators, Smalltalk wasn’t aloof a programming language; it was additionally a programming and user environment. It alien the graphical user interface, or GUI, to claimed computing, including a emblematic desktop with overlapping windows, contextual and pop-up menus, book browsers, annal bars, alternative by abrasion clicks, and alike cut, copy, and paste.
While such innovations were evidently proprietary, by the end of the 1970s, Xerox managers and PARC agents were commonly discussing their allegation with outsiders and publishing capacity of the Alto arrangement in journals. PARC advisers were, afterwards all, still part of the broader ARPA association of computer scientists and engineers. Abounding visitors who saw the Alto arrangement advised it transformative.
One such aggregation was Apple cofounder Steve Jobs. Afterward Xerox’s advance in Apple in 1979, PARC advisers gave Apple engineers and administration abundant demonstrations of Smalltalk and added programs ahead aloof for Xerox insiders. Jobs was so alert by what he saw that he absitively to reorient the Lisa, a business computer Apple was developing at the time, to absolutely embrace the PARC idiom. A few years later, back Jobs was transferred out of the Lisa project, he bedeviled ascendancy of addition accomplishment aimed at creating a bargain computer and pushed it, too, adjoin the PARC idiom. That computer became the Macintosh.
What does all this accept to do with PowerPoint? Apple lavished resources—people and banknote alike—to embrace the PARC archetype with the Lisa and the Macintosh, but not anybody at Apple was blessed about that. In particular, those alive to advance the absolute Apple II and III curve acquainted that their efforts were actuality shortchanged. By 1982, the artefact business administrator for the Apple III, Taylor Pohlman, and the software business administrator for the Apple II and III, Rob Campbell, had had enough. They abdicate and went into business together, founding the aggregation that would actualize PowerPoint.
But PowerPoint was not at all in their aboriginal plan.
One affair that affiliated Pohlman and Campbell—but alienated them at Apple—was that they were cut from a altered bolt than the computer-science types alive on the Lisa and the Macintosh. Admitting both Pohlman and Campbell were technically minded, they were additionally aggressive adjoin business and sales. Afore Apple, Pohlman had formed in business at Hewlett-Packard, and Campbell had run a baby accounting software company.
The brace larboard Apple backward in 1982, and by aboriginal 1983, they had anchored US $600,000 in adventure basic to actualize a software company, which they alleged Forethought. Ironically, the startup’s aim was to accompany the PARC argot to the IBM PC and its clones—in essence, to outplay Apple at its own game. That year, the Apple Lisa appeared, priced at about $10,000 (more than $25,000 in today’s dollars). Two years earlier, Xerox had brought its own claimed computer, the Xerox Star, to market, at an alike college price. Pohlman and Campbell’s abstraction was to accompany a graphical-software ambiance like the Xerox Alto’s to the badly accepted but graphically challenged PC.
Forethought’s founders advised to go above the Star and the Lisa by accumulation an important ambit of Alto’s Smalltalk: acquisitive programming. In simple terms, acceptable programming of the day advised abstracts and the procedures for manipulating it separately. In acquisitive programming, abstracts and procedures are accumulated in “objects” that collaborate with anniversary added by casual letters amid them. Proponents captivated that the modularity of acquisitive programming fabricated for speedier development, flexibility, and activating change. For example, able Smalltalk programmers could bound adapt the GUI while the affairs was running. Acquisitive programming has back become the prevailing archetype for the best broadly acclimated programming languages.
Pohlman and Campbell envisioned an acquisitive software belvedere alleged Foundation, which was centered about documents. Anniversary Foundation certificate would act like an article in Smalltalk, which a business user would stitch calm with added abstracts to create, say, a address absolute a blueprint of contempo sales, a statistical assay of chump traits, assets of proposed changes to a product, and a block of allegorical text. Anniversary aspect would be live, malleable, and programmable. Spreadsheets, databases, drawings, chat processing—Foundation would handle it all. Users would baddest a certificate with a abrasion click, and contextual airheaded would afresh offer choices adapted for that blazon of document. Foundation would be, in essence, Smalltalk for the appointment worker.
Forethought staffed up, bringing in software developers from Xerox PARC who were accustomed with acquisitive programming and WYSIWYG applications, in which the argument and cartoon displayed on awning attending absolute agnate to the way they will arise in print. To actualize assertive functions, the startup active deals with alfresco suppliers; Forethought additionally purchased a powerful VAX computer from Agenda Equipment Corp. for the software-development effort.
Within a year, the aggregation ran into difficulties. For one, the developers grew acutely anxious about which claimed computers, if any, would be able abundant to run Foundation. The Apple Lisa had the horsepower, but it was already declining in the market, while the Macintosh was accounted too feeble. And the IBM PC was still far abaft area Forethought had hoped and planned it would be.
Forethought, a Silicon Valley startup, brought PowerPoint 1.0 to bazaar in April 1987. Image: Dennis Austin
Version 1.0 included a amusing sample presentation in which Christopher Columbus pitches Queen Isabella on his expedition. Image: Dennis Austin
Many elements of today’s PowerPoint were present in adaptation 1.0, including its graphical, WYSIWYG environment; the accelerate sorter and slideshow; and the adeptness to calmly architecture and admeasurement text, amalgamate argument with images, and draw simple curve and shapes. Image: Dennis Austin
More annoying was Oracle’s advertisement that it would allegation addition year to deliver on its arrangement for the database code. This meant that the barrage of Foundation would be intolerably delayed. Forethought was active alarmingly low on funds, and it didn’t accept the assets to advance a database on its own. The aggregation was facing, literally, an existential crisis.
Rather than cash the firm, administration and investors absitively to “restart” Forethought—a “pivot” in today’s Silicon Valley parlance. Assignment on Foundation was set aside, while the close focused on software publishing—that is, manufacturing, marketing, and acknowledging computer programs accounting by others. Forethought’s publishing arm produced software for the Apple Macintosh beneath the cast Macware. And it was a success. Its better hit, abnormally enough, was a database affairs alleged FileMaker.
With brightening affairs from sales of FileMaker, Forethought began to advance a new software artefact of its own. This new accomplishment was the abstraction of Robert Gaskins, an able computer scientist who’d been assassin to advance Forethought’s artefact development. Gaskins was a polymath who had accompanying pursued Ph.D.s in English, linguistics, and computer science at UC Berkeley afore abutting industry. He in about-face assassin a ablaze adolescent software developer alleged Dennis Austin, who had ahead developed compilers at Burroughs and contributed to a GUI operating arrangement at a laptop startup.
Gaskins and Austin formed carefully to conceptualize, design, and specify Forethought’s new product. Gaskins spotted an opportunity in presentation software and believed they could administer the PARC argot to this application. He envisioned the user creating slides of argument and cartoon in a graphical, WYSIWYG environment, afresh outputting them to 35-mm slides, aerial transparencies, or video displays and projectors, and additionally administration them electronically through networks and cyberbanking mail. The presentation would bounce anon from the apperception of the business user, afterwards accepting to first alteration through the accumulated art department.
While Gaskins’s ultimate aim for this new product, alleged Presenter, was to get it assimilate IBM PCs and their clones, he and Austin anon accomplished that the Apple Macintosh was the more promising antecedent target. Designs for the aboriginal adaptation of Presenter defined a affairs that would acquiesce the user to book out slides on Apple’s anew appear laser printer, the LaserWriter, and archetype the printouts onto transparencies for use with an overhead projector.
Austin bound got to assignment programming Presenter in Apple Pascal on a Lisa computer, eventually switching to a Macintosh. He was abutting in the accomplishment by Tom Rudkin, an accomplished developer, and the brace hewed as closely as accessible to the Macintosh’s user interface and modes of operation. Indeed, the source cipher for Presenter included Apple-provided cipher for administration text, which Apple acclimated in its own chat processor, MacWrite.
In April 1987, Forethought alien its new presentation affairs to the bazaar absolute abundant as it had been conceived, but with a altered name. Presenter was now PowerPoint 1.0—there are adverse accounts of the name change—and it was a accepted brief success with Macintosh users. In the aboriginal month, Forethought appointed $1 actor in sales of PowerPoint, at a net accumulation of $400,000, which was about what the aggregation had spent developing it. And aloof over three months afterwards PowerPoint’s introduction, Microsoft purchased Forethought absolute for $14 million in cash.
PowerPoint afresh became Microsoft’s presentation software, aboriginal aloof for the Macintosh and afterwards additionally for Windows. The Forethought aggregation became Microsoft’s Cartoon Business Unit, which Gaskins led for bristles years, while Austin and Rudkin remained the arch developers of PowerPoint for about 10 years. Wisely, Microsoft chose to accumulate the Cartoon Business Assemblage in Silicon Valley rather than move it to Redmond, Wash. The assemblage became Microsoft’s aboriginal beginning in the region, and PowerPoint is still developed there to this day.
While PowerPoint was a success from the start, it about faced annealed competition, and for several years, Lotus Freelance and Software Publishing’s Harvard Cartoon allowable above bazaar shares. The angled point for PowerPoint came in 1990, back Microsoft unleashed its bundling action and began affairs Microsoft Office—which accumulated Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—as a $1,000 set. Previously, anniversary allotment had been awash alone for about $500 apiece.
Because best users of claimed computers appropriate both a chat processor and a spreadsheet program, Microsoft’s amount for Appointment accepted compelling. PowerPoint’s competitors, on the added hand, resented the tactic as giving abroad PowerPoint for free. And for added than a division century, Microsoft’s aggressive argumentation accepted unassailable.
These days, the business software bazaar is alive again, and Microsoft Appointment charge now attempt with agnate bundles that are absolutely free, from the likes of Google, LibreOffice, and others. Productivity software resides added generally than not in the cloud, rather than on the user’s device. Meanwhile, the ascendant approach of claimed accretion globally has durably confused from the desktop and laptop to the smartphone. As yet, no new eyes of personal computing like the one that came from Xerox PARC in the 1970s has emerged. And so for the moment, it appears that PowerPoint, as we apperceive it, is actuality to stay.
David C. Brock is a historian of technology and administrator of the Center for Software History at the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, Calif.
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