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Dr. Charles M. Geschke & John E. Warnock

The Fathers Of Desktop Publishing
October 10, 2008

Dr. Charles M. Geschke & John E. Warnock
Co-founders of Adobe Systems Inc.
Founded: 1982

"Our only real cleverness was in the perception of what was happening, and in being quick enough on our feet to take advantage of if."-Dr. Charles M. Geschke

Mention the names Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and most people immediately know whom you're talking about. But mention the names Dr. Charles M. Geschke and John E. Warnock, and chances are you'll be met with blank stares. Ironically, these two publicity-shy high-tech trailblazers played major roles in the success of both Microsoft and Apple. In fact, without the PostScript language created by the company Geschke and Warnock co-founded, Adobe Systems Inc., desktop publishing as we know it wouldn't exist.

Like many Silicon Valley firms, Adobe was a spin-off of a bigger company-in this case, Xerox Corp. Geschke and Warnock first met and began working together at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where they helped develop Xerox's page-description language, Interpress. The language won accolades within the corporation, but to Geschke and Warnock's dismay, Xerox decided to keep the technology proprietary rather that release it to public domain. Geschke and Warnock were flabbergasted by the decision. As Geschke explains in a 1987 PC Week interview, "We didn't see how you could make an industrywide standard with something that was proprietary."

Deciding that they could "get old and gray and frustrated somewhere else and have more fun," Geschke and Warnock left PARC to found Adobe Systems Inc. in late 1982. Originally, they planned to build a copy-service business, but quickly abandoned the idea. Next, they considered offering a complete turnkey system for office printing, but dismissed that idea as well when they realized that the industry would probably head in a different direction.

Finally, they decided to concentrate on what they did best-developing specialized printing software. The result of this decision was the Adobe PostScript page-description language. A revolutionary breakthrough in printing technology, PostScript was the first printing software that enabled users to print pages that included text, line art and digitized photos.

Realizing that their best chance for success lay in making PostScript an industry standard, Adobe quickly made the PostScript language public domain. But if the product was public domain, and therefore free, how could Adobe make money from its new software? Simple: Without the PostScript program that interprets the PostScript language, the language itself is useless. In a unique twist on the classic "sell them the razor cheap then make your profits on supplying the blades," Adobe would make its money from selling the PostScript interpreter, which executes page descriptions generated by other software packages, such as desktop publishing and word processing programs. In addition, the company would also provide original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with designs for interpreter boards to be used in their printers.

The strategy worked. By the end of their first year in business, Geschke and Warnock had licensed PostScript to Apple Computer Inc., which in turn introduced the first PostScript-based laser printer, the Apple LaserWriter, in January 1985. And thus, the PostScript laser printer industry was born.

Thanks to what Geschke has described as a unique combination of forward thinking, marketing savvy, timing and luck, Adobe was a success almost from the very start. By the end of 1984, it was posting revenue of $2.2 million, which grew to $16 million by the beginning of 1986. Based on their rapidly increasing revenue, Geschke and Warnock made an initial public offering in August 1986, and Adobe stock immediately became one of Wall Street's darlings. It rocketed from $11 to a peak of $56 in May 1987 (which in reality was a $112 peak, considering and earlier 2-for-1 stock split).

But more important, by 1987, Adobe's PostScript had become the industry-standard printer language. More than 400 third-party software programs supported PostScript, and Adobe boasted licensing agreements with 19 printer companies (including IBM, Digital, AST and Texas Instruments). Even Hewlett-Packard, which had initially refused to endorse the language in any way, was forced to adopt PostScript. To further increase PostScript's popularity, Adobe began building what would eventually become the world's largest typeface library.

With PostScript firmly entrenched as the industry standard, Geschke and Warnock branched out into the end-user software market with the release of Adobe Illustrator in March 1987. This high-end graphic package for professional artists and illustrators was an instant hit with both users and critics.

By 1993, Illustrator had also become an industry standard; Adobe's second software program, PhotoShop (another professional graphics package that enables users to manipulate both black-and-white and color photographs), was generating impressive reviews and even more impressive sales; and Adobe's typeface library had grown to include 1,800 fonts.

Flush with this success, Geschke and Warnock set their sights on a new goal: creating a "paperless office." To this end, they developed Adobe Acrobat, an innovative program that enables users to create documents that others can view regardless of their application software. In a brilliant marketing move, Adobe decided to offer Acrobat Reader, the program needed to view Acrobat documents, free of charge. Instead, they would charge for Acrobat Distiller, the program that creates Acrobat documents. Although it's not the raging success PostScript or Illustrator were, Acrobat is widely used for transferring, sharing and viewing documents electronically.

The duo's next big move was to join forces with Aldus Corp., the creator of the popular desktop publishing program PageMaker, in 1994. The merger handed Adobe unquestioned leadership of the publishing-software market, creating one vendor with a broad array of products that covers both Windows and Macintosh users.

Adobe's position as "king of the hill" would not go unchallenged, however. By 1996, the once undisputed ruler of desktop publishing was losing market share to Quark Corp.-whose Quark Xpress desktop publishing program had muscled PageMaker out of the top spot in the Macintosh market-and Corel Corp., whose CorelDraw was gaining ground on Illustrator in the Windows market.

Rather than go toe-to-toe with these two up-and-coming contenders, Geschke and Warnock decided to change the rules on their competitors. They attempted to reposition Adobe as a high-profile World Wide Web publisher with the release of two Web-page authoring tools: PageMill and SiteMill. They also retooled Illustrator, PageMaker and PhotoShop to include Web-content creation tools. The gambit proved worthwhile, as Adobe once again became the kingpin of the professional graphics market, averaging nearly $900 million in sales in 1998.

By 1999, Adobe found itself competing with a new, more powerful challenger-software titan Microsoft. Before Microsoft's emergence in the image-editing market, many industry analysts had noticed a change in Adobe. While it was still producing innovative products, sales were down, mostly because its marketing and PR efforts seemed to stall. PC Magazine columnist John C. Dvorak suggests that was partially due to the continually increasing isolation of both Geschke and Warnock, which Dvorak proposes was caused by Geschke's abduction by terrorists in 1992.

Whatever the future may hold for Geschke and Warnock, one thing is certain-Adobe's influence on the computer industry and image editing will be apparent for decades to come. Whether you browse the World Wide Web, flip through a magazine or newspaper, pick up a product box, or look up at a billboard, chances are the images and text were created with one or more Adobe products.

Five Days Of Terror
On May 25, 1992, an event occurred that would rock Silicon Valley. On his way to Adobe's headquarters in Mountain View, California, Charles Geschke was abducted by two kidnappers who demanded $650,000 in ransom for his return. Geschke's family was instructed to put the ransom in a knapsack and drop it off at an isolated beach. FBI agents hiding nearby lost one of the kidnappers in the fog as he was picking up the ransom, but captured him several hours later. During questioning, the kidnapper revealed the location where Geschke was being held, and Geschke was returned to his family after five days in captivity.

Book Worm
In what very well may be one of the computer industry's greatest ironies, "paperless office" prophet and Adobe Acrobat apostle John Warnock has a passion for old books. His extensive collection of rare first editions includes literary treasures ranging from a 16th century Euclid tome to all of Charles Darwin's books.