Since its inception, PowerPoint has revolutionized the way we present. Although PowerPoint has grown to become a ubiquitous tool across multiple industries and worked its way into pop culture (see Dilbert), few know about its early days.
PowerPoint began development in 1984 when Robert Gaskins was hired at Forethought, Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. His initial description of PowerPoint noted that business presentations were a $3.5B industry driven by 35mm slides and overhead transparencies. The idea of presentations wasn’t new and there were already a number of competitors. However, PowerPoint sought to disrupt the industry, making it quicker and easier to build slides with the help of personal computers.
The name “PowerPoint” wasn’t coined until just before its official release in 1987 when attempts to trademark the original name “Presenter” were rejected.
In February 1987, about 2 months prior to launch, Microsoft visited Forethought for a private demonstration. Bill Gates remained skeptical: “No, no, no, no, no, that’s just a feature of Microsoft Word, just put it into Word.” However, Microsoft returned a few days later to offer $5.3M plus incentives. Unhappy with the terms, which included moving the development team to Redmond, Forethought rejected the offer and subsequent offers from Microsoft.
On April 20th, 1987, PowerPoint 1.0 for Macintosh shipped. The initial press reviews were favorable, and their first production run of 10,000 units sold out. On April 28th, Microsoft visited Forethought again and the final deal structure started to take shape. On June 25th, the Microsoft officially agreed to a purchase price of $14M in cash. A permanent ‘Business Unit’ run by Robert Gaskins would remain in California.
PowerPoint 2.0, the first version available on Windows, was released in 1990 in conjunction with Windows 3.0. Press coverage of Windows 3.0 was illustrated in PowerPoint slides, launching a strong symbiotic relationship. Microsoft beat offers by Apple, Borland, Xerox, and others to get a head start in the presentation industry – they’ve never looked back.