Charles Geschke, seated, shares a joke with John Warnock, his co-founder, in 1998
Steve Jobs thought they were mad. The Apple co-founder was offering to buy an obscure Silicon Valley start-up that made printer software and its founders, Charles Geschke and John Warnock, flatly turned him down. “OK,” Jobs said. “Then sell me the software.”
The men refused, telling the mogul that they would stick to their business plan. “Well, I think you guys are nuts,” Geschke recalled Jobs replying. “When you change your mind, call me.”
Realizing that inexperience was making them inflexible, Geschke telephoned Jobs and they did a deal. In return for his software, Apple would buy 19.9 percent of the fledgling enterprise, Adobe, and pay an advance on future royalties of about $1.5 million (the equivalent of about £3 million today).
It proved a shrewd move for both parties. Apple launched the Macintosh a year or so later, in 1984, transforming graphic design and printing technology. Peripherals were soon central to personal computing and by the end of the millennium, Adobe was a billion-dollar company, responsible for products including Photoshop image editor, Acrobat file reader, and the Portable Document Format (PDF).
Printing documents in the early days of personal computers were tortuous and tedious. Slow, screeching dot-matrix printers delivered low-resolution text in plain fonts. Line spacing and column widths were a voyage into the unknown while any picture more complex than a greyscale pie chart was out of the question.
By the mid-Eighties superior laser and inkjet printers, while expensive, were moving into the mainstream. Geschke and colleagues developed a programming language that enabled computers and printers to talk to each other with unparalleled eloquence. The product, PostScript, was used in the Apple LaserWriter printer when it was released in 1985 and became an industry standard.
Coupled with the graphical user interface and mouse of the Macintosh and the latest WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) screen-to-page word-processing software, desktop publishing was born and the phototypesetting industry was quickly rendered obsolete.
Photoshop, created in 1988 by John and Thomas Knoll and released by Adobe in 1990, helped to usher in a boom in digital graphic design and made retouching — modifying parts of an image, such as removing skin blemishes — more common and affordable.
Admittedly, the software could be buggy and was in some respects ahead of its time. Though Geschke had read only one business book when he started the company, he did take a piece of advice to heart: if you can identify a need and be the first to provide a solution, then you will dominate the market.
“When we introduced Photoshop there were no digital cameras, a scanner was about the size of a refrigerator and cost $40,000 to $50,000, there were no inkjet printers that could produce high-quality prints in your home or in your office,” he said in a 2011 lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. “Yet instinctively we knew that if printing went digital, then photography, and eventually video, would have to. So we went in there early, got 100 percent market share.”
Geschke and Warnock also realized that “digital paper” was soon to be in demand. Acrobat — an application to create, read, edit and print PDF documents — was introduced in 1993, several years before widespread adoption of the internet and email made it easy to share files.