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Learn About Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint 2003 running on Microsoft Windows.
Developer Microsoft
Latest release 2003 for Windows, 2004 for Mac OS X / October 2003 (Windows), May 2004 (Mac)
OS Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows
Genre Presentation
License Proprietary

Microsoft PowerPoint is a 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.



In 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. Transitions between slides can be animated in a variety of ways, as can the emergence of elements on a slide itself. 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).


Microsoft PowerPoint 4.0
Microsoft PowerPoint 4.0

PowerPoint was originally developed by Bob Gaskins, a former Berkeley Ph.D. student who envisioned an easy-to-use presentation program that would manipulate a string of slides. In 1984, Gaskins joined a failing Silicon Valley software firm called Forethought and hired a software developer, Dennis Austin. Their prototype program was called "Presenter", but was changed to PowerPoint to avoid a trademark problem.

PowerPoint 2004 for Mac
PowerPoint 2004 for Mac

PowerPoint 1.0 was released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh. It ran in black and white, generating text-and-graphics pages that a photocopier could turn into overhead transparencies.

Later in 1987, Forethought and PowerPoint were purchased by Microsoft Corporation for $14 million. In 1988 the first Windows and DOS 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.

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 e.g. 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

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 may be encouraged to make presentations who otherwise would not have used visual aids, or would not have given a presentation at all. 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.

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:

Tufte's criticism of the use of PowerPoint has extended to its use by NASA engineers in the events leading to the Columbia disaster.

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. 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[1] 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.

Meanwhile, some have celebrated the abilities of PowerPoint for artistic purposes. David Byrne, for example, created artworks with PowerPoint for his book and DVD Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information.

See also

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