In 1984, computer scientist Robert Gaskin had reached a breaking point. Fed up with having to spend hours creating projection transparencies to present ideas to his team, he enlisted the help of some programmers and created Presenter, a program that would go on to be renamed PowerPoint.
For 30+ years, PowerPoint has remained the most widely used presentation software around, showing up in classrooms, boardrooms, and everywhere in between. It has served as a vehicle for creativity, expression and exchange, and been at the heart of more businesses than almost any other software.
But today, there’s no shortage of blogs, articles and other media condemning PowerPoint. Some say it’s counterproductive and prevents people from understanding your message, or that it’s clunky and cumbersome to work with. Others find it an easy target due to its seemingly universal presence, since it was the only presentation software that most people used for quite a few years.
How does a piece of software inspire so much debate? Is PowerPoint really that bad? If so, why do we still use it? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that PowerPoint has been so contentious, and explore why we still use it.
A brief timeline of PowerPoint
Before we dive into the enduring appeal of PowerPoint, let’s take a look at how we got here.
1984-1986: Robert Gaskin and his team present the first version of the program to their software company, Forethought. Apple invests $432,000 in PowerPoint, their first VC investment.
1986: By this time, the PowerPoint team is using its own program to present the business plan for the software.
1987: PowerPoint is acquired by Microsoft for $14M.
1990: the first version of Microsoft PowerPoint is released. The early versions of PowerPoint were designed for making transparencies and tracking speaker’s notes.
1993: PowerPoint reaches $100M in annual sales.
1997: PowerPoint gets a major makeover, and begins to resemble the program as we know it today. As presentations began to shift towards digital instead of analog formats, PowerPoint adds on-screen animations. For the first time, people with no computer programming skills can easily add motion to their presentations, and Power Point’s popularity explodes.
2003: PowerPoint reaches $1B in revenue.
2010: Microsoft announces PPT is installed on over 1B machines.
2012: PPT has 95% of the market share, a number that is estimated to be accurate to this day.
Why do we still use PowerPoint?
PowerPoint’s trajectory is clear. But is the reason we still use it today simply that it’s the only option? Most of us who live in the digital world grew up with PowerPoint as the only way to create a presentation. It became the standard-issue presentation software for students (and teachers). It was easy enough to use that your average user could put together a school presentation or a teacher could put together slides for the classroom. As a result, many people came to know PowerPoint early, and took that experience with them to the workplace.
And even if you didn’t start with it in your youth, the fact that it was bundled on the vast majority of work computers certainly cemented its place in conference rooms across the world. Combine this ubiquity with PowerPoint’s simple presentation creation process, and it’s easy to understand how it became embedded in our workflows.
How PowerPoint got a bad reputation
Along with the rise in use of PowerPoint, there was never a concurrent rise in training. Most people simply opened the program and played around until they found something they liked. The result was a wide range of approaches to what should be on a slide, how a presentation should be structured, and what it should look like.
PowerPoint also draws users from a broad range of backgrounds. If you think about comparable software, like Photoshop and Illustrator or even non-visual tools like Excel, these programs were typically used by specialists who were trained in their specific job. But since PowerPoint is used by people in all sorts of fields, there are very few PowerPoint experts.
Finally, PowerPoint was a victim of its own success. The fact is, it really IS easy for anyone to make a presentation in PowerPoint. That simplicity led to countless poorly considered and executed presentations. The result was a running joke that office workers of all stripes shared: PowerPoint is not good.
PowerPoint is actually great
If PowerPoint was derided for its simplicity and potential to break complex ideas into bullet points, those same ideas actually make it such a powerful tool.
PowerPoint does one thing exceedingly well: it puts your ideas at the front. It’s simple to create a presentation that quickly, clearly, and consistently conveys your message, and one that you can be (fairly) confident will work in almost any setting. There’s no steep learning curve, no need for advanced training (though it helps), and no need for expensive or powerful hardware.
It also offers multiple ways to collaborate. Many people have had the experience of sharing a .ppt with collaborators in the lead-up to a presentation, a simple form of version control that allows multiple people to have a hand in creating slides. And as competitors like Google Slides have made real-time, multi-user collaboration the new way to work, PowerPoint has kept pace by offering these same features alongside its tried and true enterprise features.
And it’s more powerful than you might think. While the misconception that PowerPoint is overly simplistic still dogs the program, modern versions offer powerful and robust tools for image editing, animation, and more. Recent years have seen functionality like morph transitions, vector graphics, and robust video editing options as well.
Content matters most
At the end of the day, PowerPoint is simply a tool. What matters is how you use it. Whatever presentation software you choose, the way to find success is to focus on creating great content.
Want to learn more about using PowerPoint? Check out our blog for pro tips, how-to’s, and more!