We started the company out of frustration with the employer that we had
because we were building great stuff and there was no way that this stuff
was ever going to get into the hands of the people who could use it. John Warnock
John Warnock gained his PhD at the University of Utah. His supervisors David Evans and Ivan Sutherland challenged him to digitise a simulation of New York harbour and replicate views from the bridge of a supertanker. John Gaffney created a database of the 3-D image components, coordinates and height. Warnock developed the ‘virtual machine’ that interpreted the database entries and provided the simulator views.
Warnock worked for Evans & Sutherland on a space shuttle simulation for astronauts to practise using a robotic arm; he developed a Forth-like language called the E&S Design System.
Chuck Geschke hired Warnock in 1978 to join Xerox PARC where he was tasked to find a language to drive the Xerox laser printer; he believed it should be platform independent. With Martin Newell he enhanced his earlier work to provide a larger database of graphic primitives -building blocks of dots, lines, curves, polygons. They called it JaM, for John and Martin.
Bob Sproull and William Newman had created Press format to define a page. Butler Lampson and Warnock integrated JaM with Press to create a page image description, Warnock named it Interpress.
Geschke tried to persuade Xerox to launch Interpress as a product but there was no interest. Evans introduced them to William Hambrecht who on a handshake gave them $50,000 for start-up and procured a further $2.5m venture capital.
1982 – Warnock and Geschke formed Adobe Systems Inc. Adobe then applied an equivalent twenty man years of effort to Interpress and developed its own approach known as Postscript.
It was independent of the printer, able to operate with 300 dpi lasers to 2,400 dpi image-setters.
Adobe offered Postscript licences and made the syntax rules freely available to authors. Adobe Postscript was the print language that enabled DTP applications to take off; together with its licensing of a series of fonts, this was the foundation of Adobe.
1983 – Steve Jobs encouraged Apple to buy 15% or 3.4m shares in Adobe for $2.5m, with Warnock agreeing to create PostScript for Apple laser printers. Apple LaserWriter, launched in 1985, was the first with built-in Postscript and DTP became the Mac’s killer-app. A shrewd investment creating Apple sales of $10m and when the shares were sold in 1989 Apple realised $85m!
1986 – Adobe moved into application software with Adobe Illustrator, a vector graphics system using primitives to create images. In 1990 it added Photoshop.
1992 – Adobe created the standard for exchanging documents between computers, independent of the platform or application. Code-named Camelot, at the Comdex 1992 exhibition it was released as PDF, portable document format. In 1993 the tool for using PDFs was announced as Adobe Acrobat.
1992 – KIDNAP One day, while Geschke was parking at Adobe, a young man approached him carrying a map. Geschke freely offered assistance, but the guy lifted the map to reveal a gun. The kidnappers gaffer-taped Geschke and bustled him into their car.
They demanded that his wife assemble $650,000 in ransom. She called Warnock whose wife insisted they involve the FBI. Coached by an FBI agent, Geschke’s daughter Kathy took the kidnappers’ calls. The FBI mobilised two hundred agents – the biggest task force since the Patti Hearst kidnapping in 1974.
What evolved read like a movie script. Wired for sound, Kathy drove to the rendezvous wearing a bulletproof vest. The kidnapper collecting the money had no escape vehicle and was captured and the FBI was led to Geschke. The kidnappers received life sentences.