PowerPoint co-creator Dennis Austin dies at 76

Dennis Austin, the co-founder of PowerPoint, a tool now generating over 30 million daily presentations, and the visionary behind its user-friendly interface, has succumbed to lung cancer

Austin served as PowerPoint’s primary developer from1985-96, when he retired (photo: IANS)
Austin served as PowerPoint’s primary developer from1985-96, when he retired (photo: IANS)


Dennis Austin, who co-created the PowerPoint software almost 36 years ago and which is still being used by millions, has passed away in the US.

Austin, 76, died of lung cancer that metastasised to the brain, reported The Washington Post.

Released in 1987 by software firm Forethought, PowerPoint was the digital successor to overhead projectors, “transforming the labour-intensive process of creating slides”.

The company released the software in 1987, and Microsoft bought the company just a few months later for $14 million. By 1993, PowerPoint was generating more than $100 million in sales. Microsoft integrated PowerPoint to its suite of Office products, including Word.

Austin served as PowerPoint’s primary developer from 1985 to 1996 when he retired.

“Our users were familiar with computers, but probably not graphics software,” Austin wrote in an unpublished history of the software’s development. 

“They were highly motivated to look their best in front of others, but they weren’t savvy in graphics design,” he added.

Working with Robert Gaskins, the Forethought executive who conceived the software, it was Austin’s job as the software engineer to make PowerPoint easy to operate. 

He accomplished this with a “direct-manipulation interface,” he wrote, meaning that “what you are editing looks exactly like the final product,” the report mentioned.

The goal was “to create presentations, not simply slides”.

In his book Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint (2012), Gaskins wrote that “Dennis came up with at least half of the major design ideas,” and was “completely responsible for the fluid performance and the polished finish of the implementation.”

PowerPoint is now being used to create more than 30 million presentations a day, according to the report.

Austin was born in Pittsburgh on 28 May, 1947. He studied engineering at the University of Virginia. In 1984, after being laid off by a start-up working on battery powered laptops, Austin was hired by Forethought, which was founded by two former Apple employees.

After Microsoft acquired Forethought, Austin continued to lead the development of PowerPoint until his retirement.

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