Oct 28 2023

As if Lenin had invented the stapler

This New Yorker article about PowerPoint us mainly notable for its mention that Whit Diffies early work played a role in inspiring PowerPoint:

In 1981, preparing to give a presentation with 35-mm. slides, [Diffie] wrote a little program, tinkering with some graphics software designed by a [Bell-Northern] colleague, that allowed you to draw a black frame on a piece of paper. Diffie expanded it so that the page could show a number of frames, and text inside each frame, with space for commentary around them. In other words, he produced a storyboard—a slide show on paper—that could be sent to the designers who made up the slides, and that would also serve as a script for his lecture. […] With a few days’ effort, Diffie had pointed the way to PowerPoint.

Happily, Diffie has no hard feelings that his colleague Bob Gaskins took that idea and ran with it:

He said he was mildly miffed” to have made no money from the PowerPoint connection, but he has no interest in beginning a feud with an old friend. Bob was the one who had the vision to understand how important it was to the world,” he said. And I didn’t.”

The thing is, contributing to the genesis of PowerPoint wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t become so dominant in the worlds of business and government. Which, to be fair, was less to do with the design of PowerPoint and more to do with the way Microsoft tied PowerPoint into what would one day became Microsoft Office.1

[Via Memex 1.1]

  1. And also the way that business has fallen for the notion that everything that needs to be said can be converted into a series of bullet points on a slide. That’s at best a framework for a discussion. But that’s a subject for another post.↩︎