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Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint Paperback – April 20, 2012

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From the Inside Flap

The creators of PowerPoint overcame great dangers twice, each time pulling out an improbable win.  Early on, as a startup named Forethought, they nearly died many times, but gained an investment from Apple (its first) and managed to ship an acclaimed product. Then they were an acquisition by Microsoft (its first, also), where they contrived to become an independent business unit and to remain in Silicon Valley, so that product development could be continued under control of the original group until the whole framework of the idea had been completed.

Now, twenty-five years later, primary school children must pass exams in PowerPoint because their teachers believe that knowing it will be vital to their future success at all levels of education and in their careers. Steven Pinker says that "these days scientists ... cannot lecture without PowerPoint." Sermons are delivered using PowerPoint in church buildings rebuilt to incorporate large screens for the purpose. Diplomats use PowerPoint to address the United Nations. Businesses and non-profits of all sizes employ PowerPoint. Newspapers and magazines and books mention PowerPoint casually with no explanation needed. Novelists write chapters of their books in PowerPoint. In a world of seven billion people, Microsoft says that PowerPoint is now installed on more than one billion personal computers. 

You would expect that it has always been obvious that PowerPoint was a good idea. But Robert Gaskins, writing here from notes made at the time, describes how, for three years until the first product was completed, almost everyone (including potential investors) thought it was unpromising. Only relentless determination by the core group and a few visionary investors kept PowerPoint alive to succeed.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

PowerPoint was the first presentation software for Macintosh and Windows personal computers. During development as a startup, it received the first venture capital investment ever made by Apple Computer. PowerPoint 1.0, for making overheads on Macintosh, was shipped in 1987. Soon thereafter, it became the first significant acquisition ever made by Microsoft, who set up a new Graphics Business Unit in Silicon Valley to develop it further. A color version to make 35mm slides was shipped in 1988 and for Windows in 1990, live video was added in 1992. By then, PowerPoint sales were over $100 million a year and it was becoming the standard for presentations. It is now installed on over one billion computers worldwide.

"Within today's corporation, if you want to communicate an idea to your peers or to your boss or to your employees or to your customer or even to your enemy, you use PowerPoint." --Rich Gold, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center

"For many purposes, PowerPoint presentations are a superior medium of communication, which is why they have become standard in so many fields." --Stephen M. Kosslyn, Director, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University

"If anything, PowerPoint, if used well, would ideally reflect the way we think." --Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of How the Mind Works

"Robert Gaskins was the visionary entrepreneur who in the mid-1980s realized that the huge but largely invisible market for preparing business slides was a perfect match for the coming generation of graphics-oriented computers." --Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Vinland Books; The PowerPoint Quadranscentennial edition (April 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0985142421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0985142421
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,007,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Gaskins invented PowerPoint, drawing on ten years of interdisciplinary graduate study at Berkeley and five years as manager of computer science research for an international telecommunications R&D laboratory in Silicon Valley.

Gaskins managed the design and development of PowerPoint as a startup where it attracted the first venture capital investment ever made by Apple Computer. PowerPoint was released for Macintosh in 1987, and soon after it became the first significant acquisition ever made by Microsoft, who set up a new business unit in Silicon Valley to develop it further. Gaskins then headed this new Microsoft group for another five years, completing versions of the PowerPoint product through the explosive initial growth of Microsoft Windows and the creation of the Microsoft Office bundle including PowerPoint.

Gaskins has recently written a book published to coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary of PowerPoint's first shipment, recounting stories of the perils narrowly evaded as a startup, dissecting the complexities of being the first distant development group in Microsoft, and explaining decisions and insights that enabled PowerPoint to become a lasting success well beyond its original business uses.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Michael on June 25, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent read on the development of one of the world's best known software from the developer himself. Mr. Gaskins kept a daily journal of the thousands of decisions that went into the development of PowerPoint which has sold a billion copies and whose name is now a generic verb around the world.
Software development isn't easy, but Gaskins gives us a well-written insider's view of the early days of PCs, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ann rosenberg on August 27, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A fascinating chronicle of the development of PowerPoint but also provides insights into the development of the PC/MAC and even of Silicon Valley. Gaskins captured day to day developments over the period in his notes which now form the detailed, factual base for his narrative.

It could also easily serve as a business school case or even a guide for starters-up.

A visit to the author's website is well worthwhile.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ed Stone on December 19, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Sweating Bullets" is the true story of how to get a "killer application" to the market first, with breakthrough capabilities, then prosper in the world's foremost OS and application corporation, and stay at the top for decades. No small task.

Robert Gaskins eloquently describes his path from his early vision, to building a team, through being acquired by Microsoft to make PowerPoint the dominant presentation platform worldwide.

At a time when some of the world was still bound to command line interfaces and graphics capabilities in computers were limited, Bob Gaskins saw the demand and set about creating the presentation tool that is the world standard even twenty years later.

"Sweating Bullets" also describes the alliance with Genigraphics which was key to early successes of both firms and which accomplished the only direct embedding of an external service in a Microsoft application. The entrepreneurs of Genigraphics, like Bob's PowerPoint team, were inventors and pioneers in so much of what is still the preeminent world-wide presentation platform.

More than a dairy, Bob recounts the thought processes that guided the development and marketing of the product, and that way of thinking is as potent today as it was then.

Spanning technology, negotiation, marketing, cultures and technological convergence, this book is essential reading for any technology entrepreneur, developer or marketer who must navigate creating and growing new technologies for new and changing markets.
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