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Adobe Systems, Inc.
At a time when the business world was
eager for a high-quality way to print documents created on a personal
computer (PC), Adobe Systems was positioned with the software technology
to not only produce professional images, but create a new industry – desktop
Like so many of the pioneers in the PC industry, John Warnock and Charles
Geschke escaped the confining structure of a large corporation and used
their entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge to move the industry forward.
In the early 1980s, as IBM was about
to announce its move into the PC market, Warnock and Geschke were working
at Xerox’s Palo
Alto Research Center (PARC) to develop a page-description language
(PDL) called Interpress. Frustrated with Xerox’s refusal to introduce
Interpress, Warnock and Geschke decided to go into business for themselves.
Warnock had written flight
simulation software and Geschke had run the PARC electronic printing
lab for Xerox. Considering briefly the copying business and office printing,
they finally turned to what they knew best, writing specialized software.
In 1982 they started Adobe Systems, Inc.
and began to work on solving some of the long-standing problems that plagued
the relationship between PCs and printers.
Solving Old Problems
For a PC to work with a printer, software
developers had to include print commands, called drivers, in the software.
A different driver had to be written for each of dozens of printers. In
addition, each of the text fonts that would be available to a printer
had to be included in a full range of sizes. There was also a language
barrier between the PC and the printer that didn’t allow the printer to
get a full description of the page, only the text and fonts; users couldn’t
print exactly what they saw on their screen and they were unable to manipulate
the text or change it until after it was printed. At the time, changing
the layout of the text or adding graphic images was typically done by
a graphic artist who would physically cut and paste the document together
after it was printed, then send the pasted-up pages to a commercial printer.
The solution for Warnock and Geschke was to create PDL software that
would work for the PC and the printer; a common language that would not
only let the user manipulate the text, but enable any printer to print
what the user saw on the screen.
Creating a New Industry
Although Adobe was ignored by most of the PC industry, it did attract
the attention of Apple Computers, which was in the process of developing
a new laser printer for its Macintosh PC. By 1984, Adobe had revenues
of over $2 million, 68 percent of which came from Apple. Revenue for 1985
more than doubled when Apple Computers
introduced the Apple LaserWriter. This $7,000 laser printer came with
a PDL that gave the user more flexibility than ever before. Together,
Apple and Adobe had created desktop
Adobe PostScript used a coded description of the page, including a mathematical
description of the text, to communicate directions to the printer controller
card, a Motorola 68000 microprocessor
with at least 1MB of memory. By storing fonts in an outline format description
rather than as a library of font sizes, text could be manipulated to appear
as white on black, shaded, a mirror image, or be stretched, compressed,
or manipulated to produce a variety of effects. PostScript language treated
the text and graphics identically. Because only one printer driver was
needed for all PostScript-equipped printers, the program was machine independent.
With PostScript, a printed page was a combination of the text and graphics,
formatting commands, and the PostScript PDL. This allowed business PC
users to be creative in the layout and presentation of information and
produce dramatically improved documents on their printers. With desktop
publishing, a business could create and modify print materials, store
them on the PC, and print high quality documents without going to an offset
printer. Even if a document was to be professionally printed, the turn-around
times for proofreading and changes were substantially reduced because
the document could be stored and manipulated on a diskette.
Adobe didn’t just target the desktop printers such as LaserWriter. It
saw that the PostScript PDL would be important for $50,000 high-resolution
commercial printers as well as mid-range printers priced at $20,000. Adobe
licensed PostScript to Allied Linotype, Dataproducts, and QMS to serve
the commercial printer market. It was
also supported by word processing programs such as Word, Scenic Writer,
and GEMWrite. Even with its expansion into the commercial printer market,
84 percent of Adobe’s $16 million in revenue in 1986 came from Apple’s
royalty payments for the use of PostScript in its printers.
By 1987, Adobe had agreements with IBM, Digital,
AST Research, Hewlett-Packard,
and Texas Instruments for them to use
PostScript in their printers. By expanding into companies whose products
competed with the Apple LaserWriter, Adobe risked losing the support of
the company that put Adobe on the map.
Rumors of Apple manufacturing a new printer based on its own QuickDraw
PDL caused Charles Geschke to comment, "That’s no reason to destroy
In 1987, with 400 software programs supported by PostScript, Adobe introduced
its own illustration software, Adobe
Isllustrator, for the professional graphic artist. Adobe seemed to
be the company leading the charge into the world of desktop publishing.
Adobe owned rights to 200 typefaces, had the de facto standard PDL, an
agreement with Steven Jobs at NeXt to develop a version of PostScript
for workstations, and had received a royalty on more than 26,000 printers
that had been sold with PostScript.
In 1988, Adobe added thirteen fonts to its library and introduced the
Font Folio, a $9,600 hard disk containing its entire font library. Users
could download the entire library of fonts one time and only have to add
the quarterly updates of additional fonts. Compugraphic and Varityper,
two commercial typesetter manufacturers, brought out high-resolution laser
printers (1900 dots per inch to 2400 dpi) with PostScript. Adobe continued
to work with desktop printer manufacturers and added Matsushita
and Ricoh, two Japanese manufacturers,
to its list of supporters. Ricoh manufactured printer engines for several
original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and the alliance with Ricoh was
the first time Adobe had dealt with a company other than a printer manufacturer.
Clones of PostScript were beginning to eat into Adobe’s market by offering
PDLs that many printer manufacturers and customers felt were good enough.
Phoenix Technologies, Ltd. and Conographic Corporation had introduced
their own PDLs in 1987, and by 1988 they were gaining acceptance. Some
laser printer manufacturers began to feel pinched by the additional price
they had to charge for a PostScript printer to pay the Adobe royalty.
Customers were buying impact printers, which couldn’t compare in quality
with the laser printers, but cost one-tenth the price of a laser printer.
Adobe’s 1988 revenues were $83 million, 75 percent of which came from
PostScript, and the clones were threatening to take part of the low-end
printer market. While Adobe’s PostScript was a product that had widespread
support by its users, Adobe failed to see that it was stifling growth
to maintain its reputation. Although the company began 1989 with first-quarter
revenues of $25 million and a strong future, by the end of the year Adobe
Systems would be a much different company.
The Battle for Supremacy
For Adobe Systems, 1989 was a turning point. In June, it and Apple were
served with a patent infringement lawsuit by a typesetting company, Information
International, Inc., and by September Apple and Adobe would be at war.
In June, Apple sold off its 16.4 percent equity in Adobe Systems and began
development of its own PostScript clone. Although printer and PC manufacturers
were on the verge of declaring PostScript as the standard PDL, Adobe found
itself in a battle with Apple to be accepted as the industry standard
for the display PDL to be used for PC monitors. Apple was using QuickDraw
for its Macintosh screens instead of Display PostScript, and Microsoft
was introducing its own graphical user interface (GUI) in Windows and
To counter the threats from Microsoft and Apple, Adobe developed a program
that would allow Macintosh and OS/2 users to use the Adobe typeface software,
even without a PostScript printer.
In September, just prior to the Seybold
Computer Publishing Conference, Apple and Microsoft announced that
they would join together to develop an open-font standard for the OS/2
Presentation Manager and Macintosh System 7. PostScript had always been
a closed-font standard and Adobe had closely guarded the specifications
to make it difficult for third-party font developers to produce clones.
Although the new Macintosh system was one year away and the Microsoft
OS/2 system was two years away, the announcement was a clear shot at Adobe’s
PostScript, which had grown to be the largest collection of fonts in the
Immediately after Microsoft’s Bill Gates made the predicted announcement
at the conference, John Warnock, who felt Apple had betrayed him, got
on stage and released Adobe’s specifications for PostScript Type 1 fonts
to the public, instantly making PostScript an open-font standard so developers
could create fonts without paying licensing fees to Adobe.
The two announcements had the potential to split the industry into two
camps — those who would develop for Adobe’s PostScript and continue to
support PostScript in their printers, and those who would side with Microsoft
and Apple and the companies who had committed their support to the new
In December 1989, as the battle with Apple continued, Adobe gave the
code for its Adobe Type Manager to Insight
Development Corporation so it could begin developing software drivers
for MacPrint and JetWriter. This move enabled Mac users to print on inexpensive
Hewlett-Packard LaserJet and DeskJet printers instead of the $7,000 Apple
In 1990, Adobe gained ground when IBM announced that it would support
Adobe’s Type 1 fonts as well as Apple’s new emerging technology called
Royal fonts. Although not committing to Adobe exclusively, at least IBM
did not abandon Adobe by joining with Apple and Microsoft.
Because of the loss of revenue from Apple, in June 1990, Adobe’s stock
dropped 30 percent and stockholders filed a lawsuit claiming that Adobe
had given out misleading sales projections and had artificially inflated
the value of the company’s stock.
Electronic Publishing and the Internet
By September 1990 the feud between Adobe and Apple mysteriously disappeared
and they had a licensing agreement to create new products based on Apple’s
printer technology and Adobe’s PostScript. Then in December 1991, Adobe
agreed to deliver Type 1 fonts for Macintosh users and to include Type
1 fonts for Adobe Type Manager (ATM) in future versions of the Macintosh
System 7 to control both displays and printers.
For Adobe, 1992 contained both good and bad news. The class-action lawsuit
brought against the company in 1990 by disgruntled stockholders was dismissed.
But in May 1992 the company was shocked when Adobe’s president, Charles
Geschke, a mild-mannered man who had once studied to be a Jesuit priest,
was kidnapped by two men who demanded $650,000 in ransom. After 5 days
of captivity, Geschke was returned safely and the kidnappers were arrested
by the FBI.
By 1993, it was apparent to the computer industry and especially to Adobe
that electronic publishing was becoming a very important method of distributing
information. Adobe knew that electronic distribution would need the same
capability to present attractive documents as the printer technology had
needed in 1985 and began its effort to dominate the Internet.
In 1993 Adobe released Acrobat,
a program that enabled a user to create a document then use the Adobe
Portable Document Format (PDF) to format it for electronic distribution.
Documents could be viewed on the World Wide
Web (WWW) or through e-mail, Lotus
Notes, corporate networks, CD-ROMs, or a printer, and could even include
a QuickTime movie clip in the
document. In addition, Acrobat could be used in Mac, Windows, DOS, or
To continue its move into electronic publishing, in 1994 Adobe merged
with Aldus, the company that produced PageMaker, a page composition software
program. In 1994, having faced off with Microsoft and won, Adobe turned
around its decline and registered revenues of $441 million in product
sales and $156 million in royalties from PostScript.
The following year, Adobe moved even further into the electronic publishing
area by signing an agreement with Netscape
to integrate Acrobat technology into the Netscape Web navigational software.
In September, Adobe agreed to purchase Ceneca Communications, Inc., a
developer of WWW publishing and site management tools. Ceneca’s PageMill
software eliminated the need to understand the complex document formatting
for the WWW and made it as easy to produce Web pages as word-processed
documents. Ceneca’s SiteMill program simplified the management and administration
of Web sites.
But Adobe had not abandoned print technology and, in fact, strengthened
its presence in the printing industry in 1995 by spending $460 million
to buy Frame Technology. Its FrameMaker software program made it easier
to create, format, and publish long documents such as books. Adobe finished
1995 with revenues of $762 million.
In 1996, Adobe joined with 26 industry leaders to collaborate on the
development of SUPRA, an architecture to integrate PostScript and Adobe
PDF technology for the future high-end print market. SUPRA was conceived
to offer high page rates, provide on-demand printing, and integrate the
preprinting and finishing operations needed to work with digital presses,
color copiers, and digital plate makers.
Although Adobe’s Acrobat software had seemed like a good idea in 1993,
it had been poorly marketed and was slow to catch on. As with all software
to create WWW sites, it could only work if the end user had access to
a version of the software to view the rich text and graphics of the documents.
So in 1996, Adobe created Amber
and worked with Netscape to make it a seamless part of the Netscape browser.
Adobe charged $3,000 and up for the version of Amber that allowed people
to create Web pages, then made it available at no cost to people accessing
the Web, just as Netscape and others had done with their software.
Later, Adobe announced that it would work with Apple and Netscape to
develop an open, cross-platform technology for Type 1 and TrueType fonts
that could be used to create and view hypertext and PDF documents. Apple
agreed to bundle Adobe Acrobat and Netscape Navigator with its Internet
Connection Kit and the Apple Internet Server Solution. According to John
Warnock, Chairman and CEO of Adobe, "By working closely with Netscape
and Apple we intend to bring to the Internet the kind of visually compelling
information users have come to expect in other media."
Continuing its presence in electronic publishing and the Internet, Adobe
in 1996 worked to make its PhotoShop software work with Ceneca PageMill
to develop Web pages.
In 1984, John Warnock and Charles Geschke created PostScript, an idea
that revolutionized the creation and printing of documents and introduced
a new computer-based industry — desktop publishing. By 1989, Adobe was
simultaneously battling with the largest PC manufacturer and the largest
software company and it appeared that the company might be forced into
the background. Surprising everyone except itself, Adobe fought back successfully
and, by 1996, it faced the future with a full line of products for both
print and electronic publishing — PostScript, Adobe Illustrator, PageMaker,
FrameMaker, Adobe Premier – a non-linear video editing software, Adobe
PhotoShop, and Adobe Acrobat.
Adobe Systems, Inc. is now the world’s third largest software publisher
behind Microsoft and Oracle. PostScript
is used in over 270 products from 40 manufacturers and was selected by
the International Standards Organization
(ISO) as the Standard Page Description Language. Between its acquisitions
and growth, Adobe Systems now employs 2000 people worldwide.
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man of characters: John Warnock, Adobe Systemsl; Michael Antonoff;
Personal Computing; July 1989; Business Publications, Inc.; 1989
gets dismissal of Federal Securities Suit; Newsbytes; March, 20,
1992; Newsbytes News Network; 1992
is back in Apple’s basket; Peter Finch; Business Week; September
Licensing Agreements Thin Clone Market; Daniel J. Lyons; PC Week;
May 10, 1988; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1988
biggest customer is now its biggest worry; Richard Brandt; Business
Week; August 7, 1989
president released five days after abduction; Erica Schroeder;
PC Week; June 8, 1992; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1992
the power behind desktop publishing; Jim Leeke; PC Week; October
13, 1987; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1987
important PostScript; Ron Jeffries; PC Magazine; September 17,
1985; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1985
licensing pact cools feud; Computerworld; September 10, 1992
and Technology; Investors Business Daily; February 22, 1996
sudden stock slide, bright future is seen for Adobe; Russell Glitman;
PC Week; June 16, 1987; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1987
Adobe sets PostScript free; Lisa Picarille and Diane Bernard;
PC Week; September 25, 1989; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1989
gives Adobe half a loaf in latest font-war skirmish; Jim Seymour;
PC Week; March 19, 1990; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1990
and Apple gang up on Adobe; Gus Venditto; PC Magazine; November
28, 1989; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1989
mustering forces against Adobe; PostScript clone, PMScript due;
Diane Bernard; PC Week; September 11, 1989; Ziff-Davis Publishing
company’s big break; C.W. Miranker; San Francisco Examiner; February
and graphics can be integrated with PostScript; Chris Shipley;
PC Week; July 9, 1985; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1985
parties poised for repercussions on open-font standard; Diane
Bernard; PC Week; October 2, 1989; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1989
will use PostScript in a variety of printers; Chris Shipley; PC
Week; July 9, 1985; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1985
PC Week; September 26, 1988; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1988
PC Week; December 18, 1989; Diane Bernard; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.;
PC Week; June 19, 1989; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1989
PC Week; December 2, 1991; Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.; 1991
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