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Originally published Monday, October 30, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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How Adobe launched a revolution

It's hard to believe that just 25 years ago, most people couldn't print out documents from their personal computers — in fact, hardly...

San Jose Mercury News

It's hard to believe that just 25 years ago, most people couldn't print out documents from their personal computers — in fact, hardly anyone owned a personal computer.

Printing was done with special-purpose typesetters, and basic machines cost $150,000.

Much of the final production work was done manually, with people sitting over light tables, physically assembling pieces of film.

Then John Warnock and Charles "Chuck" Geschke came along and launched the desktop-publishing revolution.

The pair created a programming language called PostScript, which simplified communication between PCs and printers and allowed the printing of text and images on a single page.

Warnock and Geschke, both computer science Ph.D's and 40-something family men, were researchers at what was then Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Xerox, now notorious for inventing great technologies at PARC and letting them languish, stalled on commercializing PostScript, so Warnock and Geschke struck out on their own to found Adobe Systems in December 1982.

John Warnock


Birth date: Oct. 6, 1940

Birthplace: Salt Lake City

Position: Co-founder, co-chairman

Previous jobs: Chief executive, chairman and chief technical officer of Adobe, principal scientist at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), professor at University of Utah

Education: Bachelor's degrees in mathematics and philosophy, master's degree in mathematics and a doctorate in electrical engineering (computer science) from the University of Utah

Family: Married, two sons and one daughter

Residence: Los Altos, Calif.

Other interests: Web programming, art, film, photography, skiing and rare books

Source: Adobe and John Warnock

During the next few years, Apple Computer released the Macintosh, Canon built technology used in Apple's LaserWriter printer and Aldus (now part of Adobe) created Mac page-layout software called PageMaker. Adobe licensed PostScript to Apple, allowing companies — and later consumers — to publish directly from their PCs.

"They changed the world of communication," said Bruce Chizen, Adobe chief executive. "They made it possible for anybody to publish information. It went from one-to-many to many-to-many overnight."

Adobe grew from $83,000 in revenue in 1983 to $83 million five years later. Over the next decade, Warnock and Geschke built a franchise on products for the media and creative industries, including image-editing program Photoshop and the high-end graphic-design software Illustrator.

The company spread its products into bigger businesses with Adobe Acrobat and its companion Portable Document Format (PDF), which allow people to send complex documents anywhere and have them look the same no matter where they're opened.

Nevertheless, Adobe struggled to cope with the changes brought on by the Internet, and a late-1990s attempt to bring in fresh vision by hiring outside executives ended in disaster. Warnock and Geschke fired the executives and righted the ship before handing the tiller to Chizen, who had joined Adobe in 1994 after sales and marketing jobs at Mattel Electronics and Microsoft.

Charles "Chuck" Geschke


Birth date: Sept. 11, 1939

Birthplace: Cleveland

Position: Co-founder, co-chairman

Previous jobs: Chief operating officer and president of Adobe, head of Palo Alto Research Center's (PARC) Imaging Sciences Laboratory, principal scientist and researcher in computer science at PARC

Education: Bachelor's degree in classics and master's degree in mathematics from Xavier University, doctorate in computer science from Carnegie-Mellon University

Family: Married, two sons and one daughter

Residence: Los Altos, Calif.

Other interests: Symphony, fine art, higher education and golf

Source: Adobe and Chuck Geschke

The co-founders settled into positions as co-chairmen of the board, advising Chizen as he boosted revenue from $1.2 billion in 2000 to an expected more than $2 billion this year.

They were heavily involved in Adobe's $3.4 billion acquisition of Macromedia, maker of Flash, an Internet graphics application that provides the platform for sites such as YouTube.

Warnock is known as the passionate tech visionary, and Geschke as the even-keeled business manager, but this oversimplifies the partnership. Geschke said he buys every toy that works with Adobe's products, and Warnock often completes Geschke's sentences about how they ran the company day-to-day.

Recently, the AeA, the technology industry's largest trade group, presented Warnock and Geschke with its Medal of Achievement. The list of previous winners is a Who's Who of tech history, but the Adobe co-founders are the first software pioneers to receive the honor.

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