Adobe Co-Founder John Warnock Dies at 82

Clay Risen, reporting for The New York Times:

John Warnock, a founder of Adobe Systems whose innovations in computer graphics, including the ubiquitous PDF, made possible today’s visually rich digital experiences, died on Aug. 19 at his home in Los Altos, Calif. He was 82.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, Adobe, which Dr. Warnock started in 1982 with Chuck Geschke, said in a statement.

It was just a month ago that pancreatic cancer took Kevin Mitnick, and I remarked on how many people this specific cancer has taken of late.

Until Dr. Warnock and Adobe came along, desktop printing was an arduous, expensive and unsatisfying endeavor. Users relied on either a screechy dot-matrix printer, with its pixelated text, or a specialized typesetting machine, which could cost $10,000 and take up most of a room.

Dr. Warnock developed protocols that came loaded into desktop printers themselves, and that accurately rendered what a computer sent them. Adobe’s first such protocol, PostScript, went into Apple’s revolutionary LaserWriter, released in 1985, and within a few years it was the industry standard.

PostScript, licensed to hundreds of software and hardware companies, helped make Adobe rich. But the company was largely unknown to the public until 1993, when it released Acrobat, a program designed to render and read files in what it called a Portable Document Format, or PDF.

PDF was an enormous breakthrough, and is more relevant today than ever. A true document format for the ages. But Adobe was well on its way before 1993. Photoshop 1.0 launched in early 1990. They began shipping their library of original PostScript fonts and the essential Adobe Type Manager software in 1989. And Illustrator 1.0 launched back in 1987, shipping with this video tour demonstrated by Warnock himself.

Warnock and Geschke understood what Steve Jobs often preached: technology alone was not enough. PostScript was — and remains! — excellent technology. But it was not a product. The LaserWriter was a product. You hooked it up, went to File → Print in any application, and you got professional-grade 300 DPI output with no technical expertise necessary. It was as easy to print high-quality output on a LaserWriter as it was to print junk output on a slow, noisy dot-matrix printer. That was a product.

And Illustrator turned PostScript from a rather difficult but highly-capable programming language into a tool designed for use by artists. They didn’t just make a nice code editor for writing PostScript. They created an app that presented a visual framework in which you directly manipulated shapes, lines, and curves as objects. Even expert Illustrator users were never exposed to PostScript directly. The Illustrator metaphor was a complete encapsulation. That too was a product, and Illustrator remains an essential tool. If Warnock and Geschke had been satisfied merely with shipping great technology alone, Adobe Systems would be a nearly forgotten Silicon Valley footnote. Instead, they pushed to make Adobe the great tool-making product company we know today.

Saturday, 26 August 2023