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Glisser: PowerPoint Inventor Reveals Secrets to its Enduring Success as Software Turns 30
LONDON, April 20, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- The year is 1984 and computer scientists Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin have set themselves a seemingly impossible task.
They are attempting to bring the old-fashioned projector slide into the 20th century by building a pioneering piece of software that allows users to present ideas from their computers. After a few false starts, the fledgling entrepreneurs are successful, and on the 20th April 1987, their opus goes sale.
The software becomes an instant success, making $1m (or $2.18m in modern money) in its first month. Born in California, the programme has gone on to achieve global acclaim with 1bn copies sold. And today, PowerPoint will celebrate its 30th birthday - one of the very few apps to achieve longevity of this kind.
The scale of this accomplishment cannot be overstated.
Before PowerPoint or "Presenter", as it was known in the early days creating individual slides or transparencies to show colleagues in meetings could take hours. Digitising the process so that people could properly demonstrate their ideas in a fraction of the time has been hailed as one of the greatest technological achievements of the decade.
PowerPoint was also created amidst major hardware constraints. Originally built for an early Macintosh desktop computer, Gaskins' vision vastly outstripped the available computing power. Today's Apple Watch has around 1,000-times the computing power of the eighties "Fat Mac".
This meant that the early version of PowerPoint was highly simplistic, and only available in black and white, but by 1992, the release of PowerPoint 3.0 brought vivid colours into the mix.
That same year, Gaskins gave one of the first public demonstrations of a PowerPoint presentation from a laptop computer, using video as well as static images. He recalls: "The first audiences to see this were totally amazed at what we have all now seen thousands of times."
Since then, PowerPoint has evolved through countless iterations: the grandaddy of enterprise software is now compatible with Android and Apple phones, and accessible through the cloud.
Gaskins says: "If Microsoft had not kept up steady innovation, PowerPoint would now be as long-forgotten as most of the other products introduced thirty years ago into that very different world."
Today there are an estimated 500m users of PowerPoint across the globe, creating more than 30m presentations each day.
Its popularity has yet to wane, with new research showing that it remains as popular with young tech-savy users as it is with the Baby Boomers. An online poll by YouGov showed that 81% of UK Snapchat users agreed that PowerPoint was a great tool for making presentations.
Children still learn PowerPoint in schools, and it remains part of everyday vernacular, not just amongst office workers but also with people of all ages from every walk of life, from vicars giving sermons to diplomats presenting to the United Nations. So much for PowerPoint fatigue.
According to Gaskins, the secret to PowerPoint's timeless success is its adaptability.
"PowerPoint does something that many people want to do: expressing a sequence of ideas, one after another in order, using all kinds of graphics and language," he says. "Over the last 30 years, more and more people have found themselves in positions where they need to express their own ideas, and have the opportunity to do that."
The rise of social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram show that long-form prose has become increasingly unpopular with modern users. PowerPoint, with its capacity to be highly visual, bridges the wordy world of yesterday with the visual future of tomorrow. Indeed, the average PowerPoint presentation features just 40 words.
While critics complain that PowerPoint has taken the magic from oral presentations, and warn of "death by slides", PowerPoint remains an essential tool for the modern workplace.
But even Gaskins recognises that it has the potential to alienate audiences as well as engage. "PowerPoint is not magic," he says. "It doesn't automatically improve the thinking or writing of its users. PowerPoint presentations can be as bad as any prose document."
However, it is unlikely that PowerPoint will be superseded by a new software programmes, Gaskins adds." We've seen some attempts, but I think that so far they all miss some essential features of the market, resulting in fatal flaws,"
There may be opportunities for technologists to augment the software by creating apps that are compatible with the Office stalwart. Audience engagement software such as Glisser, which allow event organisers to send slides to the audience, conduct live polls, and create more engagement during presentations, add a modern twist to the humble presentation and have delivered event return on investment.
Will PowerPoint remain a crucial resource in the future? Gaskins believes that it is likely there will be a "continuing need for what PowerPoint can do". The inclusion of artificial intelligence in PowerPoint 365's 'Designer' feature shows that Microsoft remains committed to its future but it will likely be the innovators like Glisser who will keep PowerPoint truly relevant. These start-ups will anticipate market trends and give users the PowerPoint add-ons they want, before they know they want them.
In the midst of this new industrial revolution, where technology is disrupting everything - even itself - PowerPoint has shown that it will be able to keep adapting to the new landscape, now, and long into the future.
 All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,037 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th - 29th March 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Tailored Brands | London Digital Agency
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