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MS PowerPoint: From Humble Beginnings to Business Meeting Standard

written by: John Hewitt•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 10/29/2008

Microsoft PowerPoint has changed the way that professors teach and how workers share knowledge. The ease of producing visual presentations has saved untold millions of work-hours that would have otherwise been spent drawing on white boards with smelly markers.

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    Before Powerpoint came along, anyone who wanted a visual aid for their presentation would have to spend substantial amounts of time either scrawling on a board of some sort or in creating transparencies or slides to transmit information. Although Powerpoint has been maligned by some for encouraging lazy speaking styles, the alternative is much worse. It saves millions of man-hours every year that would otherwise be spent cleaning boards off or switching slides.

    The first version of Powerpoint - first called Presenter, but later renamed because of copyright issues - was developed by Bob Gaskins and Dennis Austin, a University of California-Berkeley PhD student in 1984. The startup he worked for at the time was acquired by Microsoft soon after in 1987, and the first version of the software under the Microsoft banner was released for Windows 3.0 in 1990. When Microsoft purchased it, Powerpoint was already a mass success, selling more on its first day of release for the Macintosh OS than any other program in history at the time.

    Powerpoint integrated the use of graphics and animations early on in its development, with more recent versions allowing the user to embed entire videos. The most effective Powerpoint presentations are used to highlight important points in a presentation, rather than to have the presenter simply read off of the slide. It's also very useful for presenting graphs and other visual data representations. As the software package became more popular, a market for specialized projection equipment grew up along side it, making it so that Powerpoint would be used for more than just creating slides and transparencies.

    Unlike most of the other software products that have made their way into the Office suite, Powerpoint has never had significant market competition. Hypercard for the Macintosh was used for presentations in fair numbers, but never approached Powerpoint in terms of market penetration for professional users. That software package was discontinued in the mid-1990s.

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    Version History

    • 1988 Powerpoint Version 1
    • 1990 Powerpoint Version 2
    • 1993 Powerpoint Version 3
    • 1994 Powerpoint Version 4
    • 1995 Powerpoint 95
    • 1997 Powerpoint 97
    • 1999 Powerpoint 2000
    • 2001 Powerpoint 2002
    • 2003 Powerpoint 2003
    • 2007 Powerpoint 2007