Microsoft PowerPoint is a presentation program developed by Microsoft for its Microsoft Office system. Microsoft PowerPoint runs on Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS computer operating systems, although it originally ran under Xenix systems. It is widely used by business people, educators, students, and trainers and is among the most prevalent forms of persuasion technology.
Beginning with Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft revised branding to emphasize PowerPoint’s identity as a component within the Office suite: Microsoft began calling it Microsoft Office PowerPoint instead of merely Microsoft PowerPoint. The current version of Microsoft Office PowerPoint is Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007. As a part of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office PowerPoint has become the world’s most widely used presentation program.
As Microsoft Office files are often sent from one computer user to another, arguably the most important feature of any presentation software—such as Apple’s Keynote, or OpenOffice.org Impress—has become the ability to open Microsoft Office PowerPoint files.
However, because of PowerPoint’s ability to embed content from other applications through OLE, some kinds of presentations become highly tied to the Windows platform, meaning that even PowerPoint on Mac OS X cannot always successfully open its own files originating in the Windows version. This has led to a movement towards open standards, such as PDF and OASIS OpenDocument.
Supporters & critics generally agree that the ease of use of presentation software can save a lot of time for people who otherwise would have used other types of visual aid—hand-drawn or mechanically typeset slides, blackboards or whiteboards, or overhead projections.
Ease of use also encourages those who otherwise would not have used visual aids, or would not have given a presentation at all, to make presentations. As PowerPoint’s style, animation, and multimedia abilities have become more sophisticated, and as PowerPoint has become generally easier to produce presentations with (even to the point of having an “AutoContent Wizard” suggesting a structure for a presentation—initially started as a joke by the Microsoft engineers but later included as a serious feature in the 1990s), the difference in needs and desires of presenters and audiences has become more noticeable.
One major source of criticism of PowerPoint comes from Yale professor of statistics and graphic design Edward Tufte, who criticizes many emergent properties of the software: It is used to guide and reassure a presenter, rather than to enlighten the audience; Unhelpfully simplistic tables and charts, resulting from the low resolution of computer displays; The outliner causing ideas to be arranged in an unnecessarily deep hierarchy, itself subverted by the need to restate the hierarchy on each slide; Enforcement of the audience’s linear progression through that hierarchy (whereas with handouts, readers could browse and relate items at their leisure).
Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default settings; Simplistic thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with a beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points.
This may present a kind of image of objectivity and neutrality that people associate with science, technology, and “bullet points”. Tufte’s criticism of the use of PowerPoint has extended to its use by NASA engineers in the events leading to the Columbia disaster. Tufte’s analysis of a representative NASA PowerPoint slide is included in a full-page sidebar entitled “Engineering by Viewgraphs” in Volume 1 of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s report.