Microsoft PowerPoint (full name Microsoft Office PowerPoint) is a ubiquitous presentation program developed for the Microsoft Windows and Mac OS computer operating systems. Being widely used by businesspeople, educators, and trainers, it is among the most prevalent forms of persuasion technology: according to its vendor, Microsoft Corporation, some 30 million presentations are made with PowerPoint every day.

Operation[edit | edit source]

In Microsoft Office PowerPoint, as in most other presentation software, text, graphics, movies, and other objects are positioned on individual pages or "slides". The "slide" analogy is a reference to the slide projector, a device which has become somewhat obsolete due to the use of PowerPoint and other presentation software. Slides can be printed, or (more usually) displayed on-screen and navigated through at the command of the presenter. Slides can also form the basis of webcasts.

PowerPoint provides two types of movements. Emergence, emphasis, and exit of elements on a slide itself are controlled by what PowerPoint calls Custom Animations. Transitions, on the other hand are movements between slides. These can be animated in a variety of ways. The overall design of a presentation can be controlled with a master slide; and the overall structure, extending to the text on each slide, can be edited using a primitive outliner. Presentations can be saved and run in any of the file formats : the default .ppt (presentation), .pot (template) or .pps (PowerPoint Show).

History[edit | edit source]

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Microsoft PowerPoint 4.0 - 2003 Icons

The idea for PowerPoint came from the mind of Bob Gaskins, a former Berkeley Ph.D. student who realized that the coming age of graphics interfaces could revolutionize the design and creation of presentation materials. In 1984, Gaskins joined a failing Silicon Valley software firm called Forethought and hired a software developer, Dennis Austin. Bob and Dennis refined the vision and designed "Presenter" to implement it. Dennis created the original version of the program with Tom Rudkin. Bob later suggested the new name "PowerPoint" which finally became the product name.

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Microsoft PowerPoint 4.0

PowerPoint 1.0 was released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh. It ran in black and white, generating text-and-graphics pages for overhead transparencies. The first color Macintoshes soon came to market, though, and a full color version of PowerPoint shipped a year after the original.

The user manual with the first release was unique. It was a blue hardbound book that Forethought believed executives wouldn't mind having on their desks as in 1987 most executives didn't want to have anything to do with computer and computer manuals. Updating the manual proved to be expensive. The hardbound book manual was soon abandoned.

Later in 1987, Forethought and PowerPoint were purchased by Microsoft Corporation for $14 million. In 1990 the first Windows versions were produced. Since 1990, PowerPoint has been a standard part of the Microsoft Office suite of applications.

The 2002 version, part of the Office XP Professional suite and also available as a stand-alone product, provides features such as comparing and merging changes in presentations, the ability to define animation paths for individual shapes, pyramid/radial/target and Venn diagrams, multiple slide masters, a "task pane" to view and select text and objects on the clipboard, password protection for presentations, automatic "photo album" generation, and the use of "smart tags" allowing people to quickly select the format of text copied into the presentation.

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Microsoft PowerPoint 10 for Mac OS X

Being part of Microsoft Office has allowed PowerPoint to become the world's most widely used presentation program. As Microsoft Office files are often sent from one computer user to another, arguably the most important feature of any presentation software — such as Apple's Keynote, or Impress — has become the ability to open PowerPoint files. However, because of PowerPoint's ability to embed content from other applications through OLE, some kinds of presentations become highly tied to the Windows platform, meaning that even PowerPoint on Mac OS cannot always successfully open its own files originating in the Windows version. This has led to a movement towards open standards, such as PDF and OASIS.

Cultural effects[edit | edit source]

Supporters and critics generally agree that PowerPoint's ease of use can save a lot of time for people who otherwise would have used other types of visual aid — hand-drawn or mechanically typeset slides, blackboards or whiteboards, or overhead projections. That same ease of use means that others who otherwise would not have used visual aids, or would not have given a presentation at all, may be encouraged to make presentations. But as PowerPoint's style, animation, and multimedia abilities have become more sophisticated, and as PowerPoint has become generally easier to produce presentations with (even to the point of having an "AutoContent Wizard" suggesting a structure for a presentation), the difference in needs and desires of presenters and audiences has become more noticeable.

Criticism of PowerPoint[edit | edit source]

One major source of criticism of PowerPoint comes from Yale professor of statistics and graphic design Edward Tufte. In his essay The cognitive style of PowerPoint, Tufte criticizes many emergent properties of the software:

  • Its use to guide and reassure a presenter, rather than to enlighten the audience;
  • Unhelpfully simplistic tables and charts, resulting from the low resolution of computer displays;
  • The outliner causing ideas to be arranged in an unnecessarily deep hierarchy, itself subverted by the need to restate the hierarchy on each slide;
  • Enforcement of the audience's linear progression through that hierarchy (whereas with handouts, readers could browse and relate items at their leisure);
  • Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default settings;
  • Simplistic thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points. This may present a kind of image of objectivity and neutrality that people associate with science, technology, and "bullet points".

Tufte's criticism of the use of PowerPoint has extended to its use by NASA engineers in the events leading to the Columbia disaster. Tufte's analysis of a representative NASA Powerpoint slide is included in a full page sidebar entitled "Engineering by Viewgraphs" [1] in Volume 1 of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report .

Although many of Tufte's points seem to be well taken, a number of experts strongly disagree with his analysis for a variety of reasons — see the article "Five Experts Disagree with Tufte on PowerPoint" here.

Cliff Atkinson, a management consultant at Sociable Media, has written extensively about organizational issues related to PowerPoint, including interviews with experts from the fields of marketing, cognitive science, law, information design, and more.

University of Toronto management professor David Beatty says: "PowerPoint is like a disease. It's the AIDS of management." He advises spending 85 percent of one's time on figuring out what to say, and only 15 percent on how. He also reports that 3M has strongly discouraged the use of PowerPoint because "it removes subtlety and thinking", and the company believes that it causes people to focus on pretty pictures rather than doing what they are paid to do. (Prior to the introduction of computer based presentations, 3M was the primary manufacturer of the overhead projector, now made obsolete by PowerPoint.) Other prominent executives in the information technology industry have declared their offices "PowerPoint-free zones".

Peter Norvig created a PowerPoint version of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as a tongue-in-cheek example of the presentation style often associated with PowerPoint. Norvig published his slides on his website[2] in 2000. It was subsequently picked up by several early blogs as well as the Wall Street Journal as an illustration of how a carefully crafted and successful speech can be turned into a disjointed set of garish slides, which even included gratuitous data plots.

The use of PowerPoint encourages hypnotic communication by promoting the unintentional use of the inverted metamodel, e.g. incomplete sentences, generalizations, nominalizations, etc. [citation needed]

"Death by PowerPoint"[edit | edit source]

The expression "Death by PowerPoint" has become popular for describing poor presentations. "Death by PowerPoint" does not necessarily mean that the presentation itself is boring; the problem could lie with the presenter.

Examples of "death by PowerPoint" include:

  • Unnecessarily long presentations
  • A presenter who simply reads off the slides in a monotonous tone — basically reading to the audience what they can read for themselves off the screen
  • A PowerPoint presentation with plain text and no graphics or animations
  • Conversely, a presentation ridiculously heavy with custom animations for every text (including flying, dragging, checkerboxes and droplets)
  • Pages cluttered with small, unreadable text
  • Slides with too slow visual effects e.g. where text is brought to the slide one letter at a time.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Discussion Groups[edit | edit source]

Articles[edit | edit source]

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