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

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

Austin wrote his own account on the creation of PowerPoint which can be read at the ComputerHistory.org site (in PDF format). Austin was hired by the Silicon Valley software company Forethought in October 1984 by its vice president of product development Robert Gaskins. The company was making software for Apple's Macintosh PCs but was in financial trouble.

Austin wrote that the company was trying to develop a presentation software app, based on an idea by Gaskins. In the end, Austin and Gaskins worked together on the app. Austin wrote:

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

The app had the working name Presenter, and as the name implied it was designed to not just show slides but to create presentations. Austin wrote:

It should allow the production of various presentation materials from a single master file. This would include both presentations slides (overhead transparencies, but also on-screen presentations, and perhaps eventually 35mm slides) and printed handouts. The potential high quality of output should be matched by high-resolution graphics and typeset-quality text.

dennis austin

As the development of Presenter moved forward, the company was looking for a new and better name. Austin wrote:

On a business trip, Bob looked out the airplane window and noted the “Power Point” runway sign just before takeoff. The name cleared the trademark search and before long we were putting the finishing touches on an About PowerPoint window for the new product.

PowerPoint 1.0 was launched on April 20, 1987, for the Macintosh. In August 1987, Microsoft bought Forethought and the rights to PowerPoint for $14 million. It was the company's first major acquisition and it turned out to be a good one. The software continues to be used extensively, and The Washington Post states that it's 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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