Innovators: Robert Gaskins
How many PowerPoint presentations have you watched over the past
20 years? Five hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? You have Robert
Gaskins to thank for every single one. PowerPoint was his idea, and
it was his company—not Microsoft—that first brought the
now-ubiquitous presentation tool to market.
In the mid-eighties, as Gaskins helped plan a new personal
computer for the European division of Northern Telecom, he spent
more than a year meeting with the world's hardware and software
manufacturers. Each meeting began with some sort of professionally
printed presentation—including overhead transparencies, photo
slides, or even flip charts—and at some point, it dawned on him how
much time and money could be saved if this sort of thing were built
on a PC.
"Eventually, I collected a box full of these presentations. They
were all made by hand, but they were all very much the same," he
says. "I was very interested in the coming revolution of Macs and
Windows PCs, and looking at that collection of presentations, I
realized this could be done with software in the not-too-distant
Taking over a software start-up called Forethought, Gaskins
raised his own venture capital and spent the next three years
developing a presentation application for Apple's fledgling
Macintosh platform. PowerPoint 1.0 shipped in April 1987.
PC Magazine didn't review it. We were PC snobs. But just a
few months later, Microsoft purchased Forethought for $14 million,
making Gaskins the head of its new graphics business unit. Three
years after that, the unit unveiled a version of PowerPoint for
Microsoft's brand-new GUI operating system, Windows 3.0. And we did
review it. "Presentation makers have never had it so easy," wrote
then senior editor Robin Raskin.
Gaskins left Microsoft in 1993 and moved to London, where he took
up the study of 19th-century British music. But PowerPoint lives on