Mother Nature is not the only one capable of madcap experiments with new life forms.
The progression of Microsoft PowerPoint from a lowly, black & white-only electronic presentation tool to a ubiquitous, media-rich facilitator of tens of millions of presentations per day is one of the strangest tales in the history of computer software.
From annual meetings of Fortune 500 companies to digital scrapbooks of the family vacation, PowerPoint has shown itself to be surprisingly adaptive.
The evolution is happening simultaneously on three fronts.
1. Microsoft continues to tweak and improve the product's capabilities.
2. Professional and amateur users continue to invent new and unpredictable uses.
3. Third-party software vendors continue to enhance and extend it through the introduction of plug-ins and add-ons, some that make perfect sense, others that seem destined for the evolutionary junk pile.
Despite a volley of attacks on its overwhelming market dominance and its unfortunate tendency to condition users to believe that PowerPoint = Communication, the software refuses to go quietly. On the contrary, it seems to have both the adaptability and longevity of a Galapagos tortoise.
The morphing of PowerPoint into an enhanced media communications platform could be called the dominant theme at this year's PowerPoint Live conference, though such a claim did not appear in the conference literature.
Nearly 200 users and 20 vendors gathered October 10-13 in San Diego to share tips, tricks and strategies.
Overall, the effect was that of a fan club meeting genetically blended with a professional development conference. The attendees were a mix of serious PowerPoint groupies and communications gurus--roughly equivalent to the Star Trek fans who attend conferences in full Klingon regalia--and avid newbies, who aspire to be masters of the Master Slide.
Rick Altman, founder and director of PowerPoint Live, now in its second year, provided the Petri dish to nourish the changes in the application, crossbreeding and deployment of PowerPoint.
Altman attributes PowerPoint's longevity mainly to the rising dominance of visual imagery in all areas of communication. "These people [attendees] are passionate. They're hungry to learn," Altman said. They are learning to feed the appetite of a media-oriented society.
Ray Guyot, a founding member and former chairman of the Presentations Council of ICIA, an association of information communication professionals, has watched the software adapt surprisingly well to both professional presentation producers and motivated amateurs. He cited the rapid growth in the size of the Presentations Council as evidence of the increasing demand for visual communication in business. "PowerPoint is at the end of its beginning," noted Guyot, president of Outlook Presentations in Winnipeg, Canada. "The era of the bullet slide is over. The next era is about the integration of collaborative media, storytelling and messaging. PowerPoint is a tool that brings it all together," he said.
The exhibits at PowerPoint Live provided an enlightening overview of the current and future changes in the software.
· Among the more adaptive and creative additions to PowerPoint was the latest version of Vox Proxy, a program, which adds animated, text-reading avatars to PowerPoint presentations. In an elementary school in the Midwest, said Tom Atkins, president of Right Seat Software, PowerPoint characters read the daily school announcements over the closed circuit communication system.
· In another example of PowerPoint evolving fins into fingers, Mike Doyle, chairman and CEO of Impatica, demonstrated the company's latest efforts to extend the reach of PowerPoint presentations onto the Web, email and wireless handheld communications tools, such as mobile phones and Blackberry personal communicators. Think wireless, electronic business card. "PowerPoint presentations are reaching everywhere," Doyle said.
· TechSmith, a manufacturer of screen capture and screen-to-video recording software, is helping PowerPoint lose its tail through the introduction of its latest version of Camtasia Studio. The capture software now records narration, plays and publishes PowerPoint presentations in an easily annotated and edited format.
· Testifying to the international evolution of the product, Visual Exemplars, Ltd. flew in from London to announce the release of its Perspector 2.0 software, an add-on that puts sophisticated 3D drawing and animation tools into PowerPoint.
· Even Corel Corporation, which has a competing presentation product in its Word Perfect Suite, exhibited at the conference to highlight its new export-to-Microsoft Office feature.
· In a clear sign that PowerPoint has made the jump between species, Turning Technologies demonstrated TurningPoint, which mates the power of wireless audience response systems with the communications ease and functionality of PowerPoint. The software, which adds a dimension of interactivity to PowerPoint that was previously laborious and costly, works with any type of wireless keypad and features a Web-based function as well.
· Arguably the most innovative and far-reaching of the products on display was the iSkia system from iMatte. The revolutionary optical system, which works in conjunction with any standard video projector, creates an optical mask that blocks the projector light from landing on the presenter when he/she moves in front of the screen. At the same time, the presenter becomes a "human mouse," able to physically interact with objects and buttons on the screen. iMatte is looking ahead to a time when presentations are fully interactive events in which the presenter, the audience and the content merge into one.
The full text of this article is available here.
Robert L. Lindstrom is former editor of Presentations magazine, former executive editor of AV Video Multimedia Producer and author of Being Visual, Being Spherical and The Business Week Guide to Multimedia Presentations.
Copyright © 2004 Robert L. Lindstrom. All rights reserved.