This is the fourth installment in
Ten Behind Office 2010
, a series that features Microsoft employees behind some of the new and updated features in Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.
REDMOND, Wash. — April 23, 2010 — Microsoft Office PowerPoint is one of the most widely used and recognized products in the world. How do you begin creating its next version? For Barn-Wan Li—a 14-year Microsoft veteran—it started with a trip to the library, where he picked up a copy of “PowerPoint for Dummies.”
For two-plus years, Barn-Wan Li and his team worked to add audio- and video-related features to Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2010.
“For people who are engineers, it’s harder to get a feel of what the common business user is going through,” says Li, a senior developer on the PowerPoint team in Mountain View, California. “Reading books like that is one way to find out what users consider to be the limitations and pain points.”
Li and his team found that one area for improvement was with PowerPoint’s video and audio features. After two-plus years, the result is PowerPoint 2010, which addresses many common audio-video issues and goes a step beyond.
As Li explains it, the new PowerPoint lets users embed YouTube videos; export their presentation to video as a multimedia experience with narration, music, video and slides all included; overlay text and composite effects to a video; and more easily send presentations with transcoding and compression tools. Users can also choreograph video, audio and slide animations so all the elements in their presentations are tightly synchronized.
Also included are capabilities that allow users to edit video right in PowerPoint, including trimming video and adding fades.
“A lot of these features are of course getting a lot of attention, especially from a user excitement standpoint,” Li says. “The interesting thing will be how people push the envelope and really make creative use of some of these features.”
Microsoft News Center spoke with Li about the new features and his career at Microsoft.
News Center: You’ve said the upcoming release is the best PowerPoint ever. Why?
Li: Our biggest competition is all of our previous releases of Office. Over time, as we nail down more and more of those pain points, it gets better and better. And in this release there is also the new Web companion, smoother animations, new transitions, slide sections, equations, collaboration, better security and performance, and more. Not only are we coming out with a better product in terms of well-rounded feature set, but the product itself just feels snappier. With work from the Shared Office Graphics Team, we are better leveraging hardware acceleration. It feels more professional and snazzy.
Barn-Wan Li (shown here with his son, Eric) is a senior developer on the PowerPoint team in Mountain View, Calif., and a 14-year Microsoft veteran.
News Center: Snazzy? Is that a technical term?
Li: [Laughs.] Yes. We have a snazzy meter that we measure against.
News Center: What do you predict people will think of PowerPoint 2010?
It’s been called a sleeper hit. When people see what’s possible with video, all of these new scenarios are opened up.
News Center: A lot of people are already using PowerPoint 2010 Beta. What are they saying?
Li: There’s a hardcore set of PowerPoint users that really care about their presentations and want a really savvy look to their presentations. We’ve been hearing a lot from them, and they’re already thinking of creative ways to use the new features—multimedia choreography, video backgrounds, editing video. Because we’re creating tools to help people be more creative, the benefits of those great things will come out over time.
News Center: What are the challenges of working with video?
Li: One of the trickiest things with video, from a technical standpoint, is codec support. [Codec is the process of coding and decoding digital data.] The PC industry is just so heterogeneous, so it’s hard to know if any one machine will have the support needed to play certain types of videos.
There’s also the issue of compatibility across not only many versions of PowerPoint, but also many versions of the operating system. We have to think carefully about how we do compatibility.
News Center: What do you consider your top accomplishments in your time at Microsoft?
Li: My proudest accomplishment, in a way, is over the course of this past release. We didn’t have any kind of “death march.” We made a great product, and we did it the right way. We made the hard decisions early on . . . in order to make sure we had a good, prioritized set of work to do. Not only did it come out well, but it came out in a sustainable way for the team. Their morale is high.
News Center: What keeps your morale high?
Li: Having a good mix of environments is important for me, so I’m not stuck in one mode for too long. Being at my desk is great for getting at a technical goal, but sometimes I need to stare out the window or move around or go home for the day to take a step back and be introspective.
News Center: What do you when you’re not at work?
Li: Mostly I spend time with my family. I do all the regular house chores, hang out with my kid reading and singing and going to the park.
News Center: What’s your favorite part of working at Microsoft?
Li: When I joined the company it was only about 25,000 employees. It had a different feel at the time. The part I’ve really appreciated is that it’s been growing with me in my life and the values that have been important to me. There’s a bigger component of work-life balance, of the sustainability of doing high-quality work, a focus on excellence and training both on the engineering side and as a manager.