Technology News 17.05.07

PowerPoint: not such a powerful tool? 3D printing on your desktop. Microsoft and Yahoo to join forces
Death by PowerPoint

US military personnel are now required to use Microsoft's PowerPoint to give daily briefings in Iraq. The ubiquitous presentation program cannot be blamed for the debacle in the country, but a recent study has shown that it may be guilty of being more than just boring. Researchers in the University of South Wales in Australia found that, even when used as part of a live presentation, PowerPoint does more harm than good.

The software is typically used by speakers who read the contents of each slide as they go through them. Professor John Sweller claims that humans have a limit to their “cognitive load” and that information simultaneously presented both visually (as text) and aurally (as spoken words) adds up to less than the sum of their parts, and the resulting communication and retention is actually worse than if the words, or the slides, were presented by themselves. The Professor says, “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched. It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.”

Microsoft estimates that there are 30 million PowerPoint presentations made every day. Supporters claim that the software is not the problem. They include Steven Pinker, renowned MIT Professor of Psychology , who holds that “When properly employed, PowerPoint makes the logical structure of an argument more transparent. Two channels sending the same information are better than one”. If this is the case, why does the programs appearance induce immediate audience drowsiness or even despair? Perhaps PowerPoint training should come with public speaking lessons.  

Making your ideas a reality

An American company has developed a three-dimensional desktop printer, at a price possibly within the reach of a normal budget. Desktop Factory will start selling its printer for $4,995 (€3,700) later this year. Soon, it will be possible to download plans for an object online, press print and take a solid article from your printer a few hours later.

Similar printers have been used in industrial design for some time, to test part designs for cars, planes or buildings, before actual manufacturing. The industrial machines, while cheaper than before, still cost around €11,000.

Desktop Factory is aiming to bring these machines into the home. Their technology uses a halogen light to melt nylon powder. The specks of powder are stacked in very thin layers and hardened in small spots by precisely applied light. The process is repeated, creating an object from the bottom up.

The makers of the machines compare their 3-D printers to laser printers, which were at first prohibitively expensive. When the price dropped, the ordinary householder saw the possibilities for desktop publishing at home.

Hod Lipson, a professor at Cornell University, believes that “In the future, everyone will have a printer like this at home. You can imagine printing a toothbrush, a fork, a shoe.”

The things created by the Desktop Factory printer are as yet rather unrefined as they are made with 0.01-inch thick layers of material, thicker than other similar machines, resulting in some jagged edges. Also, it uses nylon mixed with aluminium and glass to produce grey objects with a sandy finish that some may not find attractive.

Nonetheless, the possibilities for this infant technology are staggering. As Lipson says, “Who knows where it will go from here?”


Rumours of a possible Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo! ran around the world recently, as stories were printed in the New York Post and the Financial Times stating that the software giant had made a $50bn bid for the search engine. Analysts were beside themselves, as the move would have confirmed speculation that Microsoft (MS) is desperate to legitimately compete with Google, even going so far as to buy Yahoo!, a company whose activities overlap with Microsoft's in several respects, such as their email services. This desperation has increased, say the analysts, with Google's recent victory over MS by their deal to purchase Doubleclick, the largest broker of online advertising, for $3.1bn, a move which will enable them to boost their influence even further. Later in the week, MS CEO Steve Ballmer further fuelled speculation by saying his firm is “open to large acquisitions”. Without commenting directly on the Yahoo acquisition rumours, he cryptically said “anything is conceivable”.