An Interview with Steve Rindsberg
Interviewed By: Geetesh Bajaj
Date Created: February 12th 2004
Last Updated: March 5th 2009
Rindsberg is the founder and President
of RDP, based in Cincinnati,
Steve's been associated with PowerPoint since theproduct originated - his site is a treasure troveof PowerPoint information in the form of the celebrated PowerPoint FAQ.When he's not updating his site, he's creating new add-ins that expand possibilities. Steve's also into a lot of print technology related stuff.
Steve and Brian Reilly are co-developers of the PPTools add-ins for PowerPoint.
Geetesh: Your PowerPoint FAQ is almost as much of a PowerPoint celebrity as you - how did it start and evolve.
Steve: Long ago, before the Web was woven, I spent a lot of time answering questions on Compuserve's Microsoft Support Forum, and eventually I realized something: It was really, really silly to type out the answers to common questions over and over again. Aside from wasting time, it was too easy to forget important bits of the answer or answer more or less clearly, depending on the caffeine level.
So whenever I wrote an answer to a common question, I'd save it. And use it again the next time the question came up. And edit/improve it over time as I learned what explanations worked best for other PowerPoint users and as others suggested better ways of doing things / solving problems.
When Office 97 came along, I got intrigued with Word's ability to save documents as HTML. That made it very simple to publish a page full of information with links to other resources on the web ... and that was the beginning of the PowerPoint FAQ site.
And it got out of hand almost immediately! Before long, I'd added so much material that the PPT FAQ page (and I do mean a single html page) went on for miles (or kilometers if you're reading this in a sensibly numerate locale). So visitors didn't have to scroll all over the place to find what they wanted, I added a kind of index with links to the content, and the content had links back to the index, and that made it all so tedious to add new entries that I more or less stopped adding anything to it except when I absolutely HAD to.
But I couldn't just walk away from it. As crude as it was, the PowerPoint FAQ had become too useful to do without, so I had to figure out what to do WITH it. I ended up writing a series of oddball little programs that eventually coalesced into Friday, an application designed specifically for creating and maintaining FAQs and using FAQ contents to answer questions online in newsgroups and email. With Friday's help, maintaining the PowerPoint FAQ was so simple that even I could do it. So I did.
The PowerPoint FAQ has grown to something like 500 pages and counting. If I were still maintaining it as one huge Word document, it would be long enough to gift-wrap the earth to a depth of three meters and still leave enough left over for a pretty bow on top.
Actually, some people LIKE the "Endless Ribbon of FAQ" effect, so I have Friday create a humongous one-page version just for them. It's at www.pptfaq.com/FULLFAQ.htm, in case you'd like the "Big Gulp" version.
Geetesh: How PowerPointed are you.
Steve: My head is Pointy but not Powerful. I wear a hat, talk fast
and pray that nobody notices how forgetful I am.
What was the question again?
Geetesh: PowerPointed as a definition is open to interpretation but it generally means how favorably you look at PowerPoint - as a benevolent user (highly PowerPointed) or as an evil entity from the other side (PowerPointed level of zero).
Steve: "Ohhh ..... THAT PowerPointed! That'd be me, all right."
Geetesh: I can probably not conduct an interview with you without asking a question about Brian Reilly! Tell me about your relation with Brian and your PowerPoint add-ins.
Steve: Brian and I met on Compuserve and ended up working together on a book about PowerPoint 97. He wrote the chapters about Visual Basic for Applications and I corrected all of his mistakes. He has a truly weird sense of humor, so we became friends right off. Even when nobody else understands us, we do.
I'd been using another presentation graphics program that supported automation for years and really missed that capability badly; Brian had been programming in Excel for quite some time already. When PowerPoint 97 incorporated VBA, we were both instantly hooked. Right off, we created a simple free add-in to correct PowerPoint's problems with linked images. That led to other ideas for more free or inexpensive add-ins for PowerPoint and here we are.
Geetesh: How do you get ideas about creating amazing new PowerPoint add-ins.
Steve: A grain of sand gets inside an oyster's shell and irritates it, so it secretes a substance called nacre to cover the sand and stop the irritation. You could say that Brian and I secrete VBA to soften PowerPoint's sharp edges and to fill voids where a needed feature is missing. PPTools as PPTPearls ... I like that image!
Seriously, most of our ideas come from the questions people ask in the PowerPoint user group. If enough people have a need that PowerPoint doesn't meet, that's a potential add-in.
Or our customers use our PPTools in ways we never imagined, then ask for new features to make them work better for them. Our PPT2HTML PowerPoint to HTML converter, for example, has dozens of obscure little features that hardly anyone knows or cares about. But to the customer who requested them, they make all the difference between tedious, repetitive manual labor and an automated one-click solution to their particular problem.
Geetesh: Can a career be made out of PowerPoint?
Steve: PowerPoint is a tool. Can a career be made out of a hammer? I don't think so. But there are lots of opportunities if you can use a hammer skillfully, or teach others to use one, or repair broken hammers or invent better hammers. It's like that with PowerPoint.
I wouldn't say that I've made a career out of PowerPoint per se, but I've used it daily for over a decade throughout a career that's included creating presentations for Fortune 500 clients, running a slide imaging service bureau where 95% of the slides were from PowerPoint presentations, writing about PowerPoint for magazines and book publishers, teaching PowerPoint, and of course, writing add-ins that make PowerPoint easier and more productive to use.
PowerPoint may be just a tool, but it's certainly a versatile one.
Geetesh: Death by PowerPoint - you've heard that so often these days. Your comments?
Steve: The hammer again: if you whack your assistant's hand with a hammer instead of hitting the nail he's holding for you, who does he blame? The hammer? Of course not. Not unless you've hired a fool for a helper.
If you whack your audience in the head with a deadly, boring presentation, does it matter whether you created the presentation in PowerPoint or by scribbling on overheads or by holding up a copy of your latest book? Of course not.
And since we all know who we're talking about, I'll mention that I own all of Edward Tufte's books. They're well thought out, beautifully crafted and generally a reader's delight. It's puzzling and sad that the brilliant mind behind them could be responsible for such muddle-headed nonsense as this anti-PowerPoint campaign of his.
Geetesh: You've been a PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) since the program began. Tell me what it means to you and how has it evolved.
Steve: At first I was concerned that Microsoft wanted to recruit cheerleaders, so I made it very clear that I was interested in representing the users to Microsoft rather than the other way around. Frankly, I thought that'd be the end of it, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this was fine with Microsoft.
The MVP program has been a pleasure to be part of. Through it, I've met some wonderful people (other MVPs, 'Softies and the regulars in the PowerPoint newsgroup) that I might never have known otherwise.
Then of course there's the Secret MVP Luxury Resort, the free Ferraris, the wild weekends with BillG, the ... ah but if you believe that, you'd probably be willing to hold nails for me while I use PowerPoint to hammer them in. Shame on you.
Geetesh: How good is the interaction you have with Microsoft? How does it make a difference to you and the PowerPoint team?
Steve: It's taken a while for the MVP program to gain widespread recognition, but thanks to a lot of persistent hard work by April Dalke, Jennifer Lesher and a lot of other exceptional people at Microsoft, I think we've earned the trust and respect of the PowerPoint development team.
While we can be a thorn in their sides at times, they understand that it's because we want PowerPoint to be as good as it possibly can for the users. After all, that's us! We may argue over the route, but the destination's the same.