30 Years Later: How PowerPoint Continues to Stay Ahead of the Curve

The year is 1987, and Microsoft has just acquired PowerPoint from inventor Robert Gaskins, who recalls that founder Bill Gates “wasn’t keen to buy PowerPoint initially.”

While PowerPoint has been a leader in presentation technology for quite some time now, surprisingly, Microsoft’s first version of PowerPoint had a lot of competition and it didn’t always compare favourably. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that PowerPoint had finally caught up to its many competitors. They launched transition effects, new graph types, and a toolbar with shortcut features — the basic feature set upon which today’s version is still based.

#1. A Short History

From this point on, PowerPoint released a new version every two years on average, featuring major upgrades with every release. PowerPoint 2002 and 2003 featured outline and slide thumbnail views, both iterative features that signalled PowerPoint’s focus on the user experience, which continued throughout the early 2000s. In 2010, collaborative working features were developed so that users could co-author presentations at the same time, presentations could be remotely delivered online and the ability to export a presentation as a video was introduced. Collaboration remained a theme in the following years, especially with the release of Microsoft Office 365 in 2011. The modern version of the Office suite allows users to create presentations in the cloud, reflecting Microsoft’s forward-thinking and future plans for software provision.

#2. PowerPoint’s Success Story

With 30 years in the making, one might suspect that Bill Gates has had a change of heart from his initial apprehensions. Since its arrival in the presentation software marketplace, PowerPoint has been a standout competitor, even coinciding with a surge in personal computer purchasing and the use of computers in business environments. Gaskins suspects, the $14-million purchase may ultimately have been more valuable to Microsoft than any acquisition it has made since. PowerPoint is said by Microsoft to have been installed on over a billion computers worldwide, and it isn’t close to being threatened by any competitors where market share is concerned.

Since its inception, PowerPoint has become a staple in public speaking. It’s had a cultural impact on business meetings, school lessons, and informal presentations. It plays an integral role in day-to-day life that many may not have ever realized.  From the beginning, PowerPoint has put users first, taking away the complexities, and saving them time and effort. It’s simple enough to use that even those who aren’t tech-savvy can create informational and visually pleasing presentations. From technology leaders to presidents, to professional presenters, PowerPoint has made high-quality presenting both simple and less stressful.

In fact, Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord wrote a PowerPoint presentation in 2009 that upended tradition and created a new, Silicon Valley paradigm of workplace culture. McCord’s revolutionary Culture Deck established a bold vision for managing top talent in a competitive landscape. Using PowerPoint as her guide, she paved the way toward a new standard in hiring and retaining employees. Since its publication, Netflix’s Culture Deck has been viewed over 17 million times. Sheryl Sandberg has called it, “the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.”

Consider all the ways you’ve utilized PowerPoint in your lifetime. Did it help you land a memorable sales pitch? Was it a helpful tool in convincing your parents that you were ready for your first pet? It might have even been a helpful guide in your first speech at school.

#3. The Modern Use of PowerPoint

PowerPoint still stands as the most valuable Microsoft acquisition to date, is currently installed on over a billion computers worldwide and is responsible for the creation of up to 30 million presentations each day.

PowerPoint today is just as relevant as ever. Recent innovations in PowerPoint have continuously appealed to its users’ needs and changes in societal behaviors. For example, Millennial and Generation Z users become increasingly dependent on their mobile devices for entertainment and productivity uses. With a society that’s constantly on the go, PowerPoint launched its mobile app, which allows users to utilize the PowerPoint they’ve come to know while working in a number of locations. PowerPoint creators can quickly create, edit, view, present or share presentations quickly and easily from anywhere.

PowerPoint has become a staple tool in many of today’s most inspiring presentations from everyday business associates and professional presenters alike. Take TED Talks, home to some of the most powerful speakers on the planet, for example. If you search the site’s most viewed talks, you’ll notice that the majority of these videos feature a starring role for PowerPoint and its visual cues. These inspirational talks, some of which have received tens of millions of views, are proof that presentation tools can elevate the process of sharing ideas.

With three decades of updates and evolutions under its belt, today’s PowerPoint is an incredible tool for presenters. Despite the competition that’s continuously emerging, PowerPoint still stands apart as the go-to tool for creating presentations. In fact, many might argue that PowerPoint has paved the way for all presentation technology, sparking innovation for many presentation tools to come. Aside from programs like Google Slides, Keynote or Prezi, which put their own spin on presentation software, tools like remote slide advancers, screen sharing software or entire agencies dedicated to presentation design may have never come into existence. If it weren’t for the proliferation of PowerPoint, public speaking events, conferences, and meetings would be an entirely different experience. PowerPoint has proven its significance over the past thirty years — who would have thought that one single program would spawn entire industries, events, and experiences?

As PowerPoint continues to adapt to all the fast-moving tech advancements on today’s horizon, the next 30 years will certainly bring new capabilities and features for presentations. Wearable tech such as Myo armbands will bring more personalized flow to presentations, allowing presenters to move around and use muscle movement to transition between and zoom into slides. In addition, the development of VR and AR markets estimated to reach $150 billion by 2020, is likely to bring headsets into the mix. Rather than 2D slides, space surrounding an audience could be used as the ‘canvas’ of a presentation, producing truly immersive and interactive experiences of shared ideas.

It’s no exaggeration to say that PowerPoint has come a long way since 1987. After years of technological innovation, however, PowerPoint continues to be influential in the lives of many. As presentation preferences continue to evolve, PowerPoint will continue to be a leader in technology.

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