Dennis Austin, the co-creator of Microsoft’s ubiquitous presentation software PowerPoint, has passed away at 76 after a battle with lung cancer which had metastasized to his brain, according to his son Michael.
Born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1947, Austin was first introduced to computers through a high school program at CMU’s Carnegie Institute of Technology before getting his bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia.
Austin spent time at Xerox’s famous PARC facility in California where the origins of the GUI framework were born.
Recruited to Silicon Valley startup Forethought in 1985 by Gaskins, Austin was selected to serve as the primary developer for a new business presentation software focused on the home computer market that they called Presenter.
The software went through several rounds of design before it was initially funded by Apple’s Strategic Investment Fund in early 1987.
It was during this time that the team realized that the name Presenter was already trademarked and Gaskin, on the fly, came up with the name PowerPoint.
PowerPoint 1.0 was released for the Macintosh in April of 1987 to rave reviews.
Microsoft at the time was seeking to develop something similar and began meeting with Forethought about PowerPoint.
Despite Bill Gates’s early reticence, Microsoft acquired Forethought for $14 Million in July of 1987, taking both Gaskin and Austin along in the deal.
Austin continued to lead the product development for PowerPoint until he retired in 1996.
The product became one of the big three Microsoft productivity tools along with Excel and Word, which were bundled together in 1993 as Microsoft Office.
In his book Sweating Bullets: Notes About Inventing PowerPoint, Gaskin was quick to praise Austin for his contributions to the application.
Gaskin stated, “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.”