Confusing readers while promoting Microsoft over its competitors . . .

PowerPoint: the 21st Century Kleenex

by Conrad Weisert, February 26, 2004

A quarter page article last Sunday by the Chicago Tribune's computer columnist rhapsodized over the virtues of PowerPoint. That article was the latest in a growing flood of dialog that confuses computer-based presentation slides with one of several software products that create and display them. Some of the author's comments were directed to the concept of using presentation slides as a medium of communication, while others were quite specific to the Microsoft product.

Generic and trade names

The columnist's confusion recalls similar situations in the past century when the name of a dominant product came into popular use as a generic word. Trademarks such as Kleenex, Victrola, Xerox, Dixie Cup, and Jacuzzi were widely, but wrongly, used as generic nouns. To Xerox is still common as a verb.

Whenever a publication uses one of those terms generically, however, it can expect a stern warning letter from lawyers representing the trademark owner. Far from being pleased by the free publicity, those corporations fear losing trademark protection should a future court rule that popular usage has made the term truly generic.

I haven't heard such complaints from Microsoft. I suppose when you're confident of retaining 90% market share forever, there's little reason to fear competing "PowerPoint" vendors.

Well, if Microsoft isn't willing to complain, I am. Why on earth do the media need to help a vendor increase its market share from already near-total dominance? Why should the media help to kill off excellent products from non-dominant vendors?

Presentation slide software

A number of excellent presentation software products have been developed and are being sold by established vendors. Just those that run under Windows® include:

Each of those products has features not found in the others. In my own courses and presentations I've chosen to use a non-Microsoft product, because, compared with PowerPoint, it offers:

Perhaps the latest version of PowerPoint offers features my current presentation software doesn't have, but I see no reason to switch now. I'm open to future developments.

Meanwhile, can't we all refrain from misusing "PowerPoint" as a synonym for "presentation slides" or "presentation software"?

.ppt is not an Internet standard

In view of the widespread misusage, it's hardly surprising that naive people have come to believe that everyone has PowerPoint and that PowerPoint files are acceptable for both attaching to E-mail and posting on web sites. We even hear about people who don't have PowerPoint and have no need for it being intimidated into rushing out to buy it in order not to appear unenlightened to an E-mail sender.

Of course, sending a .ppt file as an unsolicited E-mail attachment is not only rude; it's also unnecessary. It takes only a minute or two to convert that file to Adobe standard portable document (.pdf) format, which almost every Internet user can read.

Now what about Excel ®?

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Last modified February 26, 2004