PowerPoint’s complex and ageing interface is now being seriously challenged by presentation software and design platforms offered by a variety new players. The hallmarks of these next-generation tools are a clean, user-friendly interface, stylish design and functionality enabling integration of online data.
Microsoft did not invent the iconic presentation software tool PowerPoint. It was originally created by Forethought, a US software company, which hired University of California, Berkeley PhD graduate Bob Daskins to lead the development work in the early 1980s on Presenter, a PowerPoint forerunner designed for the Apple Macintosh. Realising how useful this kind of tool would be to the business world, Bill Gates purchased Forethought in 1987 for $14 million, re-naming the Presenter tool PowerPoint, and making it both Mac- and PC-compatible. It struggled to catch on at first due to the high price and the fact that at that time not many companies were using desktop computers, but PowerPoint really took off in the 1990s after the first Microsoft Office Suite – comprising Word1.1, Excel 2.0 and PowerPoint 2.0. – was launched in 1990. The first CD-ROM version, PowerPoint 3.0., dates from 1992
PowerPoint 3.0 Interface
Since then PowerPoint has dominated the market as the leading presentation software for business. The popularity of Windows 95 ensured Microsoft’s domination of PC operating systems and PowerPoint rode this wave to become a universally used software tool. In fact the Microsoft package still enjoys top spot as the most-used tool for creating slides to present a piece of work, but is now coming under a stiff challenge. Competitors – from online sharing platforms to presentation apps focusing on design and personalisation – are coming up with new ways of presenting ideas.
Windows 95 goes on sale in the shops
Online tools beginning to overtake packaged software
With the rise of the social networks and the advent of mass sharing of information on the Internet, platforms that allow you to create your presentation online and then share it are becoming more widely used. Simpler, faster, these platforms provide real alternatives, the best known being Web 2.0 slide hosting service SlideShare which was set up in California in 2006. This is a sort of content-channel-cum-online community – operating along the same lines as YouTube – which allows users to upload and share PowerPoint presentations, documents, and infographics. Presentations are categorised by theme, and also by popularity since you can see the number of times the presentation has been viewed. In 2012 LinkedIn, aware of the potential of this ideas-sharing tool in the business world, acquired SlideShare for $120 million, helping to turn it into one of the largest B2B social media. However, SlideShare still works with PowerPoint-formatted presentations from the Microsoft Office suite and Apple’s Pages.
Thanks to a partnership with Seattle-based Haiku Deck, SlideShare now also provides a means for you to create your own presentations directly on the platform. Other online platforms such as Prezi, based in San Francisco, and Moscow-based ReadyMag, are positioning themselves as direct competitors to PowerPoint. The recent surge in the use of these platforms suggests that the days of presentation software packages owned/rented by the user may be numbered, to be replaced by tools that are available anywhere, any time. Prezi’s main focus is on interactive presentations in different formats, while the ReadyMag service is designed to enable publication of magazines and websites, as well as presentations. The attraction of these online tools and their success in winning over users is no mystery as they provide the user with considerable extra help – quality templates, fast layout, easy sharing functionality, plus sophisticated upfront design, relieving the user of the need to acquire design skills.
Separating content from design
When Apple first launched its Keynote presentation software it focused on the design and simplicity of presentations based on good quality templates and its enduring popularity underscores the importance of design for this type of tool. During the Demo Day run by iconic Californian seed fund and startup accelerator 500 Startups in early February, one of the startups – called Slidebean – actually profiled itself as the ‘PowerPoint killer’. A key feature of the the Slidebean service is to simplify user action to the maximum. You can enter your text and select the atmosphere and feel you want the presentation to convey, and Slidebean will automatically take care of the design from a range of templates. You can then either post your presentation on the Slidebean platform or download it. Speaking at the Demo Day, CEO Jose Cayasso underlined how simple his strategy is – i.e. “separating content from design with an intuitive tool, so that users can concentrate on what they want to say while the rest is taken care of automatically.”
Meanwhile French startup Bunkr, an alumnus of Paris incubator TheFamily, is pushing the boat out even further. Bunkr also claims to be a ‘PowerPoint killer’ but places the emphasis on customisation for specific business areas, providing targeted presentation tools for speakers, marketers, designers, developers and entrepreneurs. Another differentiating feature of Bunkr is that it enables users to import into their presentations content directly from the Web, e.g. videos from YouTube or Vimeo, SoundCloud clips, tweets, Facebook posts etc. Moreover Bunkr claims to be a platform that is open to integrating other services so that users can import existing data – and design features – directly from other ‘modern’ platforms without having to reproduce them from scratch on the Bunkr site.