Geschke’s PARC vision the start of a print and document revolution

Apr 21, 2021 at 06:24 pm by admin


It all began with a walk in the PARC. Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, where Chuck Geschke – who died last Friday, aged 81 – and John Warnock were working, and Steve Jobs, amazingly, was a casual visitor.

Jobs famously spotted the WIMP – for windows, icons, mouse, pull-down menus – interface that had been developed at the centre, and went on to found Apple on the under-appreciated technology.

Geschke and Warnock – who had been working on a page description language called Interpress – were also frustrated at their employer’s lack of vision, and left to launch Adobe and its first product, PostScript.

Indeed the story goes that the duo had looked at developing a suitable computer platform until Jobs persuaded them to leave that to him.

With Paul Brainerd – whose Aldus Pagemaker layout application completed the trio of “desktop publishing” elements – they launched a revolution.

Suddenly every man and his dog had tools at consumer prices – and this was the key secret of their success – that enabled them to design and publish, even if – despite the “what you see is what you get” of WYSIWYG displays – many used the standard 35 founts to deliver the proverbial dog’s breakfast.

Apple and Adobe teamed to produce the desktop Laserwriter which fell short of print quality, but was soon supplemented by Linotype’s imagesetter and a succession of RIPs, upgraded and outdated so fast they became known as “boat-anchors”.

A drive for innovation saw Geschke and Warnock develop the portable document format PDF – Adobe’s gift to the industry – Acrobat, Illustrator, Premiere Pro and Photoshop. They bought Pagemaker, learned from the process, and developed InDesign to replace it.

The partnership across five decades was a near-perfect match, Warnock saying this week that he “could never have imagined having a better, more likable, or more capable business partner”.

Many have fond recollections of him, at conferences and around the world. Australian commentator Andy McCourt recalls meeting and interviewing Geschke at Peter Lane’s World Print Congress in Adelaide in 1997. “He was a lovely remarkable guy who had a deep knowledge of where media and print was heading. His warmth and common touch was genuine – he really was a people's person as well as a smart technologist. One of the industry greats, sadly missed,” he said.

Commentator and graphic arts educator Frank Romano tells of an early meeting with Geschke at RIT, and two at Adobe – one in 1982 he had forgotten, and another in one their new towers in San Jose, where he was wearing an apron and serving ice cream – adding “he and his company truly made a difference. I will miss him.”

Geschke and Warnock were occasional visitors to Australia, and personally I recall a media breakfast, followed by an interview in an area above Melbourne’s Exhibition Buildings, where the then Pakprint trade show was being held. It was an exciting meeting at an exciting time, when I had been employed as editor of Ink Magazine partly on the strength of my interest in desktop technology.

Just a few years before, I’d seen top-end, top priced Harris video layout systems at DRUPA, along with the humble, under-imagined Apple Lisa, still in need of an output unit. And after seeing Pagemaker at a newspaper trade show in Brighton, UK, taking a borrowed Mac to broaden the closed minds of the very union-focussed composing room team who had worked for me there.

When I got to Australia, Ink publisher Bill Minnis of course wanted to use desktop to produce the magazine. Which we promptly did, making sure not to mention the Mac word to advertisers still tied to older technology.

Output and portability: Geschke and Warnock changed all that, and changed not only the face of print, but the future of documents and content.
Geshke is survived by his wife Nancy and three children.

Peter Coleman


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