Chuck Geschke, 1939-2021


Dan Margulis
 

It’s rare for a company name to become a verb. Today we speak of Photoshopping a picture, or of Googling a certain topic. But these are exceptions. Forty years ago there was another example: if you needed a photocopy of a certain document, you would say, I have to get a Xerox of this. 

As the king of photocopying, Xerox could afford to spend lavishly on development. In 1970, it opened a research center in Palo Alto and populated it with some free-thinking California types. Since Xerox headquarters were in upstate New York, and Zoom was not yet a factor, the PARC had a lot of freedom from supervision. When the cat’s away, the mice will play, and the PARC researchers proved it by developing a mouse, part and parcel of their Graphical User Interface for computers that had not yet been invented.

The PARC folk, unlike their Rochester bosses, understood that it would not be long before documents could be custom-made and printed from a computer, as opposed to being photocopied on Xerox hardware. Therefore, in 1978, they opened an Imaging Sciences Laboratory, under the direction of Chuck Geschke, who died this weekend. His main interest was in page description languages that could be used to drive a laser printer. This was no easy task, because Chuck, whose father and grandfather were letterpress printers, insisted that any PDL needed to be able to carry high-definition font information. And PARC developed just such a PDL, called Interpress.

PARC’s work drew the attention of Steve Jobs; the result was Apple Computer. Why Apple instead of Xerox became the leading company in desktop publishing is a long and sad story, but Jobs summarized it thus: “Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry, could have been the IBM of the nineties, could have been the Microsoft of the nineties."

Instead, Xerox went the way of another Rochester company, Kodak, in insisting that its own technology would last forever. Xerox’s only attempt at a publishing system in the 1980s was a notorious flop. Disgusted by the lack of support from Rochester, and in particular its disdain for Interpress, in 1982 Chuck Geschke and one of his top hires, John Warnock, walked out and formed their own company in Warnock’s garage. They named it after a creek that ran behind the house: Adobe, and went to work on a new PDL, PostScript.

The love-hate relation between Apple and Adobe began in 1979, when Jobs was permitted some visits to the super-secret PARC in exchange for giving Xerox Apple stock options. Xerox corporate may not have realized that what he saw was the future of desktop computing, but Jobs did, and he found kindred spirits in Geschke and Warnock. So, when those two left Xerox, Jobs immediately offered to buy them out on Apple’s behalf, reportedly for $5 million. 

They turned him down, but he managed to get a long license to use PostScript on Apple’s forthcoming products, enabling the Lisa in 1983 and the Macintosh in 1984. And he guaranteed Adobe’s future by decreeing that Apple’s products would only support PostScript as a PDL, when IBM was insisting that a hundred flowers should bloom and that any page description language should be supported.

Geschke and Warnock were expert programmers. Both specialized in simplifying the construction of graphics so that the tortoise computers of the day wouldn’t choke on them. They particularly wanted to be able to generate real typefaces, not the bitmaps. For that, they had developed a font description format based on Bezier curves. This curving technology led directly to three major product lines: 1) repackaging existing fonts for PostScript; 2) Adobe Illustrator; 3) PDF.

In 1988, Adobe bought the rights to Photoshop, and we know the rest of the story. That, I believe, was more of a Warnock decision. The previous three, however showed off Geschke’s technical skill and his farsightedness. It guaranteed him a place in modern graphics history second only to Jobs.

Think of how far ahead of its time Adobe was during its first decade! It was longer than that before anybody else could manufacture a decent font. Primitive versions of Illustrator appeared on the Macintosh, but the real shocker, in terms of capabilities, was Illustrator 88, named after its year of release. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of high-end scanners and typesetters had to decide whether these developments were for real. Compugraphic and Crosfield decided to ignore PostScript, and paid with their lives. Linotype-Hell decided to embrace it. My own company, the largest color separator in the U.S. at the time, was dragged kicking and screaming into the desktop era; I wound up leaving the company for more or less the same reason that Geschke and Warnock left PARC, and got hired back at a huge salary as a consultant when the company figured out that Macintosh knowledge was more essential than they thought.

Anyway, with my squadron of film-based Linotron 300s and a few copies of Illustrator 88, I was capable of making shapes to great precision and stepping and repeating them. So could our Scitex system, which happened to cost hundreds of times as much. And, with a hundred strippers working on all kinds of different jobs, occasionally one would be found where it was much more economical for me to do the premakes in Illustrator 88. That led to a couple of calls from Geschke, who wanted to know what I was up to and why.

Our next encounter was nearly five years later during the development of PDF.  In the early 1990s, when his idea was first announced, there was a lot of skepticism. Who would ever take the hour or so needed to transmit a PDF across the country, when you could fax it in a fraction of the time? Who needs to send a PDF to a laser printer, when we can already print directly out of our applications? And why waste several minutes distilling the PDF in the first place?

I didn’t share these particular concerns although I did not foresee how ubiquitous PDF would become. What I saw in it was an eventual solution to the terrible problem that was then affecting graphic arts service providers. In 1988, I was outputting Illustrator files at high resolution, but clients weren’t. And they had no way to create pages of text. But within five years they did have a way, as Quark introduced a capable page makeup application.

Unfortunately, the handoff of Quark files, supporting graphics, and fonts between client and provider could get forked up in any number of ways. Plus, Adobe’s official position was that it was illegal for clients to give providers the necessary fonts to run the job, as the providers were supposed to buy their own. That position was widely ignored, and I suggested to Chuck that it might be better abandoned, when I knew he was in a good mood. He was in a good mood because I had just told him that PDF was likely the answer to my dreams, in that it could potentially be configured so that the client-provider handoff would become foolproof. He needed to hear that because many other people were telling him that putting so much energy into creating PDF was a waste of time and effort.

That was the last time I spoke to him. In his remaining years as president of Adobe, Photoshop became dominant, as did PDF. Adobe acquired Aldus, and with it the PageMaker program that was the intellectual foundation for InDesign, which was released in Chuck’s last year before his retirement. The last version of Photoshop developed during Chuck’s reign was Photoshop 6. I seriously doubt that he would have approved the release of Photoshop 7, but by that time Adobe was in the hands of the marketers.

Today, Adobe faces some grim realities. Their products are quite mature. Photoshop and Acrobat were fairly competent programs 20 years ago. PageMaker, 25 years. Illustrator, almost 35 years since a truly professionally usable product was released. How much more can they be improved? Plus, computers aren’t becoming obsolete as rapidly. In the 1990s, we had to trash our computers every two to three years because the newer models would be so much faster. Today, a ten-year-old computer is suitable for most work. So, Adobe has to resort to certain unpopular moves, making its software rental-only being one.

Big, powerful software companies are always unpopular, unless they have a very unusual type of manager. Steve Jobs had enough charisma to make people fans of Apple, but he wasn’t at the company for most of the 1990s, during which time most of the industry held Apple in contempt. Of the other industry leaders, Macromedia had some fans, Microsoft was actively disliked, and Quark was hated passionately. 

At the time Chuck Geschke retired in 2000, it is fair to say that his clients generally loved the company he had founded. That is perhaps his best legacy of all.

Dan Margulis







Tanya Metaksa
 

Thank you, Dan, for that illuminating bit of history.


On Apr 19, 2021, at 2:18 PM, Dan Margulis via groups.io <dmargulis@...> wrote:

It’s rare for a company name to become a verb. Today we speak of Photoshopping a picture, or of Googling a certain topic. But these are exceptions. Forty years ago there was another example: if you needed a photocopy of a certain document, you would say, I have to get a Xerox of this. 

As the king of photocopying, Xerox could afford to spend lavishly on development. In 1970, it opened a research center in Palo Alto and populated it with some free-thinking California types. Since Xerox headquarters were in upstate New York, and Zoom was not yet a factor, the PARC had a lot of freedom from supervision. When the cat’s away, the mice will play, and the PARC researchers proved it by developing a mouse, part and parcel of their Graphical User Interface for computers that had not yet been invented.

The PARC folk, unlike their Rochester bosses, understood that it would not be long before documents could be custom-made and printed from a computer, as opposed to being photocopied on Xerox hardware. Therefore, in 1978, they opened an Imaging Sciences Laboratory, under the direction of Chuck Geschke, who died this weekend. His main interest was in page description languages that could be used to drive a laser printer. This was no easy task, because Chuck, whose father and grandfather were letterpress printers, insisted that any PDL needed to be able to carry high-definition font information. And PARC developed just such a PDL, called Interpress.

PARC’s work drew the attention of Steve Jobs; the result was Apple Computer. Why Apple instead of Xerox became the leading company in desktop publishing is a long and sad story, but Jobs summarized it thus: “Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry, could have been the IBM of the nineties, could have been the Microsoft of the nineties."

Instead, Xerox went the way of another Rochester company, Kodak, in insisting that its own technology would last forever. Xerox’s only attempt at a publishing system in the 1980s was a notorious flop. Disgusted by the lack of support from Rochester, and in particular its disdain for Interpress, in 1982 Chuck Geschke and one of his top hires, John Warnock, walked out and formed their own company in Warnock’s garage. They named it after a creek that ran behind the house: Adobe, and went to work on a new PDL, PostScript.

The love-hate relation between Apple and Adobe began in 1979, when Jobs was permitted some visits to the super-secret PARC in exchange for giving Xerox Apple stock options. Xerox corporate may not have realized that what he saw was the future of desktop computing, but Jobs did, and he found kindred spirits in Geschke and Warnock. So, when those two left Xerox, Jobs immediately offered to buy them out on Apple’s behalf, reportedly for $5 million. 

They turned him down, but he managed to get a long license to use PostScript on Apple’s forthcoming products, enabling the Lisa in 1983 and the Macintosh in 1984. And he guaranteed Adobe’s future by decreeing that Apple’s products would only support PostScript as a PDL, when IBM was insisting that a hundred flowers should bloom and that any page description language should be supported.

Geschke and Warnock were expert programmers. Both specialized in simplifying the construction of graphics so that the tortoise computers of the day wouldn’t choke on them. They particularly wanted to be able to generate real typefaces, not the bitmaps. For that, they had developed a font description format based on Bezier curves. This curving technology led directly to three major product lines: 1) repackaging existing fonts for PostScript; 2) Adobe Illustrator; 3) PDF.

In 1988, Adobe bought the rights to Photoshop, and we know the rest of the story. That, I believe, was more of a Warnock decision. The previous three, however showed off Geschke’s technical skill and his farsightedness. It guaranteed him a place in modern graphics history second only to Jobs.

Think of how far ahead of its time Adobe was during its first decade! It was longer than that before anybody else could manufacture a decent font. Primitive versions of Illustrator appeared on the Macintosh, but the real shocker, in terms of capabilities, was Illustrator 88, named after its year of release. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of high-end scanners and typesetters had to decide whether these developments were for real. Compugraphic and Crosfield decided to ignore PostScript, and paid with their lives. Linotype-Hell decided to embrace it. My own company, the largest color separator in the U.S. at the time, was dragged kicking and screaming into the desktop era; I wound up leaving the company for more or less the same reason that Geschke and Warnock left PARC, and got hired back at a huge salary as a consultant when the company figured out that Macintosh knowledge was more essential than they thought.

Anyway, with my squadron of film-based Linotron 300s and a few copies of Illustrator 88, I was capable of making shapes to great precision and stepping and repeating them. So could our Scitex system, which happened to cost hundreds of times as much. And, with a hundred strippers working on all kinds of different jobs, occasionally one would be found where it was much more economical for me to do the premakes in Illustrator 88. That led to a couple of calls from Geschke, who wanted to know what I was up to and why.

Our next encounter was nearly five years later during the development of PDF.  In the early 1990s, when his idea was first announced, there was a lot of skepticism. Who would ever take the hour or so needed to transmit a PDF across the country, when you could fax it in a fraction of the time? Who needs to send a PDF to a laser printer, when we can already print directly out of our applications? And why waste several minutes distilling the PDF in the first place?

I didn’t share these particular concerns although I did not foresee how ubiquitous PDF would become. What I saw in it was an eventual solution to the terrible problem that was then affecting graphic arts service providers. In 1988, I was outputting Illustrator files at high resolution, but clients weren’t. And they had no way to create pages of text. But within five years they did have a way, as Quark introduced a capable page makeup application.

Unfortunately, the handoff of Quark files, supporting graphics, and fonts between client and provider could get forked up in any number of ways. Plus, Adobe’s official position was that it was illegal for clients to give providers the necessary fonts to run the job, as the providers were supposed to buy their own. That position was widely ignored, and I suggested to Chuck that it might be better abandoned, when I knew he was in a good mood. He was in a good mood because I had just told him that PDF was likely the answer to my dreams, in that it could potentially be configured so that the client-provider handoff would become foolproof. He needed to hear that because many other people were telling him that putting so much energy into creating PDF was a waste of time and effort.

That was the last time I spoke to him. In his remaining years as president of Adobe, Photoshop became dominant, as did PDF. Adobe acquired Aldus, and with it the PageMaker program that was the intellectual foundation for InDesign, which was released in Chuck’s last year before his retirement. The last version of Photoshop developed during Chuck’s reign was Photoshop 6. I seriously doubt that he would have approved the release of Photoshop 7, but by that time Adobe was in the hands of the marketers.

Today, Adobe faces some grim realities. Their products are quite mature. Photoshop and Acrobat were fairly competent programs 20 years ago. PageMaker, 25 years. Illustrator, almost 35 years since a truly professionally usable product was released. How much more can they be improved? Plus, computers aren’t becoming obsolete as rapidly. In the 1990s, we had to trash our computers every two to three years because the newer models would be so much faster. Today, a ten-year-old computer is suitable for most work. So, Adobe has to resort to certain unpopular moves, making its software rental-only being one.

Big, powerful software companies are always unpopular, unless they have a very unusual type of manager. Steve Jobs had enough charisma to make people fans of Apple, but he wasn’t at the company for most of the 1990s, during which time most of the industry held Apple in contempt. Of the other industry leaders, Macromedia had some fans, Microsoft was actively disliked, and Quark was hated passionately. 

At the time Chuck Geschke retired in 2000, it is fair to say that his clients generally loved the company he had founded. That is perhaps his best legacy of all.

Dan Margulis








Paco
 

Thanks for this Dan!


bill_iverson_washington
 

Thanks for the article on Chuck Greske, Dan.  Please write a book -- you know the history and technology of so much of all of this, and IMHO your writing style is far, far superior to most people with the technical chops to do this.  With a nod toward Dean Acheson’s Present at the Creation, you could call it “Present at the Computerization.”

 

Bill Iverson


Dan Margulis
 

On Tue, Apr 20, 2021 at 10:18 AM, bill_iverson_washington wrote:
Thanks for the article on Chuck Greske, Dan.  Please write a book -- you know the history and technology of so much of all of this, and IMHO your writing style is far, far superior to most people with the technical chops to do this.  With a nod toward Dean Acheson’s Present at the Creation, you could call it “Present at the Computerization.”
My days of book-writing are over, but thanks for the thought.

For those interested in my writings about the history of publishing, I offer my double Makeready column written to commemorate the new millennium. It's called "The Age of the Enlightened", or for those wishing to read it in Spanish, "La Edad de los Iluminados".

Dan


bill_iverson_washington
 

Thanks, Dan.  The Age of Enlightenment is a great consolation prize.  Plus, it led me to the Makeready Archive on the Modern Color Workflow website, which I’d never looked at before.

 

Bill Iverson

P.S. As for more books, never say never.

 


Robert Wheeler
 

Dan,
Your remembrance of Chuck Geschke was informative, sensitive, and a lovely piece of writing. I am President of a camera club in Vancouver, Washington, with quite a few members old enough to know about many of the changes you mentioned. I think they would be interested in reading what you have written. We have a monthly newsletter October through May (The Adapter, http://www.filmpack.org/adapter.php). Would it be possible for us to have permission to include our article in the upcoming edition? If not, have you published it elsewhere online where we could include a link accessible without membership?
Thanks,
Robert Wheeler


Dan Margulis
 

On Tue, Apr 27, 2021 at 05:51 PM, Robert Wheeler wrote:
Dan,
Your remembrance of Chuck Geschke was informative, sensitive, and a lovely piece of writing. I am President of a camera club in Vancouver, Washington, with quite a few members old enough to know about many of the changes you mentioned. I think they would be interested in reading what you have written. We have a monthly newsletter October through May (The Adapter, http://www.filmpack.org/adapter.php). Would it be possible for us to have permission to include our article in the upcoming edition? If not, have you published it elsewhere online where we could include a link accessible without membership?
Certainly. Our view is that any original text material posted here is public domain, although permission is needed to re-use images.

Unless things have changed, one does not need to be a member to link to messages. (It was not so when we were at yahoogroups.) Membership is required to view the Photos and Files sections, but not the messages.

Dan


Robert Wheeler
 

Dan,
Thank you for clarifying expectations. We will send you a copy when the newsletter is published.
Robert Wheeler