Industry pays tribute as pioneer Geschke passes away

Jo Francis
Monday, April 19, 2021

Adobe co-founder Dr Chuck Geschke, one of the fathers of the desktop publishing revolution that transformed the printing industry, has died aged 81.

Geschke: instilled a relentless drive for innovation in Adobe
Geschke: instilled a relentless drive for innovation in Adobe

Geschke founded Adobe together with Dr John Warnock in 1982. 

The duo had previously worked at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) where Geschke set up its Imaging Sciences Laboratory focusing on image processing, graphics and optics. 

Geschke’s father and grandfather were both letterpress photo engravers. 

Together with Warnock, he developed a page description language called Interpress, and, after Xerox declined to pursue the idea, the pair left to form their own start-up company and named it Adobe. 

Adobe’s first product was PostScript, which sparked the desktop publishing revolution of the late 1980s. It transformed the printing industry which had previously been reliant on proprietary systems. 

Warnock, who is now chairman of the Adobe board, shared a warm tribute: “I could never have imagined having a better, more likeable, or more capable business partner. Not having Chuck in our lives will leave a huge hole and those who knew him will all agree,” he said. 

Geschke retired in 2000 after 18 years at the business, but continued to serve on the board of directors before becoming emeritus board member last year. 

Adobe is now one of the world's biggest software companies. It has more than 22,500 employees worldwide and expects to achieve sales of around $15.45bn (£11bn) in the 2021 fiscal year. 

The firm's CEO Shantanu Narayen said Geschke had left “an indelible mark on our company and the world”.

“Chuck instilled a relentless drive for innovation in the company, resulting in some of the most transformative software inventions, including the ubiquitous PDF, Acrobat, Illustrator, Premiere Pro and Photoshop,” he said.

“As much as his inventions changed the world, it is his focus on people, purpose and culture that has profoundly impacted each of us at Adobe. As he always said, Chuck wanted to create a company where he would want to work.

“He believed that good ideas come from everywhere in the company and that it’s not only what we do but how we do it that matters most. He dedicated much of his time and talent to various philanthropies and community organisations throughout his lifetime.”

Geschke and Warnock received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama in 2008.

Richard Patterson, the founder of UK RIP developer Hyphen, told Printweek: “Even though Hyphen with its high resolution, high-speed PostScript clone Raster Image Processor was in direct competition with Adobe both John Warnock and Chuck Geschke were unfailingly polite, dignified gentlemen whenever I met them. 

“Both Chuck and John with their formation of Adobe and the PostScript page description language provided the impetus to drive the graphics arts industry forward into the modern era. They broke the stranglehold of fonts only being available from one particular typesetter manufacturer and also (something we all take for granted now) provided low resolution proofing on a 300dpi laser printer and also high resolution output from the same application.”

Patterson said it was hard to imagine a world without Adobe technology. 

“I firmly believe that the type- and image-rich world wide web that we all take for granted was only possible by the foundation stones laid by John Warnock and Chuck Geschke with their work at Adobe. Look at their rich heritage – PostScript, Illustrator, Photoshop, PDF, InDesign, etc. etc. Try to imagine a world without those technologies.”

He added: “On Adobe's (I think) 10th anniversary, from an idea provided by Seybold Europe's Laurel Brunner, a number of non-Adobe people from the high resolution printing industry got together to show their appreciation of what Adobe had achieved. I had a local jeweller make a little wooden stand with a silver Monopoly top hat on it. It was inscribed with a plaque: ‘To Chuck and John, thanks for kicking the graphics arts industry into the 20th century’. The last time I visited John Warnock in his office in San Jose many years later I was pleased to see the award on his desk in Adobe Towers.

Printweek contributor Simon Eccles said: “I met him a couple of times in the 1980s in London, when Adobe was young and so keen for publicity that they still talked to the likes of me! He was the quiet one next to the more outgoing and better known John Warnock, and I think he was more of a ‘backroom’ person.

“Both had worked for Xerox previously, on the early page description language Interpress before leaving to do their own thing, which became PostScript.”

Geschke was kidnapped at gunpoint in 1992 with the kidnappers demanding a $650,000 ransom. The FBI intervened and he was released unhurt after four days. 

He died on 16 April and is survived by Nancy his wife of more than 50 years, their three children and seven grandchildren.

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