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Dr. Meredith Belbin

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The New Gutenberg

Adobe Systems CEO John Warnock launched a desktop publishing revolution that arguably rivals the influence of Gutenberg’s first printing press more than 500 years ago. Although Warnock’s future is focused on Internet publishing, his legacy is grounded in the ancient history of printing.

"The art of printing secures us against the retrogradation of reason and information."

Thomas Jefferson, 1811 John Warnock, the co-founder and visionary of Adobe Systems in San Jose, is by all accounts a quiet, unassuming man. Few who first meet Warnock would guess that this former mathematician toppled the entrenched print media industry by unleashing a desktop publishing revolution.

In many ways, Warnock’s accomplishment parallels the towering achievement of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the first printing press with movable type in the mid-15th century. Prior to that time, scribes were hired to hand-copy each new book, line by line.

"Back then, the book was not a tool of communication, but a repository of information and very expensive stuff," Warnock said. "Books used to be only for the clergy or the very, very rich."

Gutenberg’s invention in his hometown of Mainz, Germany forever altered history by opening up the storehouse of knowledge in books to the masses, thereby reducing the information stranglehold enjoyed by a small circle of scholars and priests. For this reason, the Archbishop of Nassau decided that printing was not in the best interests of the Catholic Church and ordered his soldiers to sack Mainz in 1462. The Archbishop’s plan backfired, however, as local printers fled the city and spread the technology of printing throughout Europe.

After perfecting the method of movable type, Gutenberg used his press to run off some 200 copies of the Bible on parchment. Today, all of the remaining Gutenberg Bibles are safely preserved in institutions. The last one to be auctioned off fetched $5 million in 1982, but Warnock estimated that the originals are worth closer to $50 million each today.

"This started the whole process of using the printed word as a communication tool," he commented. "It was the start of the Enlightenment."

Whereas Gutenberg’s press greatly expanded literacy, Warnock’s software allows anyone with a home computer to produce high-quality publications, eliminating the need for expensive printing presses and publishing houses.

"The success of Adobe is due in large part to our deep respect for the past, for the graphic arts tradition over the past 500 years," Warnock explained. "If we lose sight of that and only focus on the computer, we’ll lose a lot of the history and beauty in our publishing past."

Warnock co-founded Adobe Systems with Charles "Chuck" Geschke in 1982. The duo developed a series of best-selling software products for the creation of texts, graphics and electronic documents. In so doing, they turned Adobe into the publishing software industry leader. Today, Adobe’s signature products include Photoshop, Illustrator, GoLive, Premiere, PostScript, Pagemaker, InDesign, LiveMotion and Acrobat.

Warnock’s innovative leadership earned him an induction into the Computer Industry Hall of Fame in 1998. In addition, Graphic Exchange magazine ranked Warnock and Geschke as the seventh most influential figures in graphics history over the last millennium.

Adobe is now the third largest PC software company in the U.S., with annual revenues in excess of $1 billion and more than 2,800 employees worldwide. The company is highly regarded for its focus on employees. In April, Adobe was named one of the "Top 10 Companies to Work For" by Inter@ctive Week magazine, and Fortune magazine ranked Adobe 42nd this year in its list of "The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America." In addition, Adobe has been recognized by President Bill Clinton for its ongoing efforts to promote diversity in the workplace.

Warnock credited employee relations for playing a critical role in the company’s overall pattern of success.

"Our employees are what Adobe is all about. They are our greatest asset," he said. "We go to extraordinary lengths to retain them. Competitive compensation is part of it, but this also involves mutual respect and valuing them and their lives as people outside of work. We’ve never been big on burning people out. We’ve always been big on home life. We have tried to run the company extremely ethically, both with employees and customers."

Craig Cline is vice president of content for Seybold Seminars, which hosts the world’s largest and most prestigious events for the digital publishing industry, with annual gatherings in Boston and San Francisco. Cline said he has long admired Warnock’s approach.

"I’ve known John since I joined Seybold in 1987. He’s always been a premier participant in our events in the industry. He is among the driving forces in getting desktop publishing off the ground," Cline said. "Through it all, John has been a guiding light and a constant in the publishing universe. He has been one of the seminal figures in the publishing industry, writ large by the wonderful democratizing effect of desktop publishing."


The story of the desktop publishing revolution begins in the late-1970s at the fabled Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where Geschke was manager of the imaging and sciences lab and Warnock was a principal scientist who assisted in developing standards for graphics imaging.

Warnock and Geschke were among the many brilliant scientists who transformed the Xerox research facility into a legendary Silicon Valley hotbed of innovation. The groundbreaking work at Xerox PARC led to numerous critical developments for computing and publishing, including the invention of the mouse, Ethernet networking, and the computer server. All researchers at the facility were plugged into networked PCs with electronic printers at a time when the rest of the nation was still dancing to disco music.

"At PARC, we lived in the office of the future, with e-mail, in 1978," Warnock recalled.

During his stint at PARC, Warnock invented a device-independent printing technology which became known as PostScript. Simultaneously, Xerox PARC introduced the first graphical user interface (GUI) with windows and collapsible menus, allowing non-programmers to easily navigate through electronic tasks without relying on complex computer languages.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was the first to recognize the enormous market potential of the graphical user interface when he glimpsed the Alto computer prototype at Xerox PARC. Of course, Jobs went on to successfully commercialize the GUI concept with the launch of the Macintosh in 1984.

Two years earlier, Warnock and Geschke left Xerox PARC to found Adobe. Much like Jobs with his Mac, they knew that their open page language had tremendous commercial potential, so they decided to manufacture and market it.

Warnock approached Jobs in 1983 regarding a partnership between their fledgling companies. Jobs convinced the Apple board to buy 19 percent of Adobe to support the new open architecture print technology, which allowed printers to interface with computers. Apple’s investment in Adobe led to the release of PostScript, the centerpiece of desktop publishing, in 1985. PostScript is now regarded as the worldwide standard for reliable, high-quality printing.

"The idea behind PostScript was to present a protocol or language for describing how you want the page printed in such a way that it wouldn’t force you to decide every detail, such as the size and number of pixels, or the shadings of color," Geschke explained. "It provided a very uniform, high-level application that allowed the layout of pages independent of the printing device."

Previously, proprietary vendors sold unique layout tools, so users were locked into expensive setups for the lives of their systems. For the first time, PostScript gave graphic designers an opportunity to buy various components for their printing needs from different vendors. At the time, this open source approach was a novel concept in the publishing industry.

"Every time we brought out a standard for PostScript or graphics for the Web, we always published the specifications," Geschke said.

Despite these remarkable advances, Cline said most people in the publishing industry still regarded PCs and Macs as toys.

"They were toys until Adobe and Apple collaborated to create the Laserwriter with Adobe PostScript fonts built into it. This was the first alternative to the million-dollar systems out there," Cline said. He called this collaborative breakthrough "the proverbial acorn in the crack of the sidewalk."

"The acorn grows into a small sapling that can get stomped, or if overlooked, it can grow into a big tree," he said. "Previously, most people couldn’t go into publishing because the barrier to entry was too high. This new development was a huge, democratizing, leveling type of change. With these applications, anyone could publish for $10,000."

The Mac’s graphical user interface greatly simplified computing, and its combination with Adobe PostScript and PostScript applications turned the desktop computer into a potent yet affordable graphics workstation. Within a decade, PostScript had overturned conventional design, typesetting and pre-press processes.

Warnock cited four major developments that led to the success of desktop publishing. They included the graphical interface of the Apple Macintosh, the development of Adobe’s PostScript, the introduction of the first low-cost laser printer by Canon, and Paul Brainerd’s 1985 invention of Aldus PageMaker, the first desktop page layout program. With these tools, virtually anyone could publish fliers, newsletters, magazines or any other kind of documents, thereby relegating all the old-fashioned printing presses that were descended from Gutenberg to the dustbin of history.

"The three of us started to see desktop publishing opportunities," Warnock said of Jobs and Brainerd. "All of this came together and it was the beginning of the end for the old way of doing things."


The old way of doing things was perhaps best exemplified by Aldus Manutius, from whom Brainerd’s company took its name. Manutius followed Gutenberg as the next great figure in publishing history, setting up the Aldine Press in Venice to produce an extensive series of Greek classics in the 1490s. Manutius then became famous for the invention of italic type, which went into extensive use in the early 1500s.

Most importantly, Manutius invented portable books, thereby encouraging the practice of reading among working people. Previously, all books were large, cumbersome volumes bound by heavy wooden and iron covers—not exactly trashy beach reading. By 1516, though, smaller handheld books were rolling off the presses.

"The nifty thing about this was now books were portable," Warnock enthused. "Now information started to move throughout Europe. For the first time, information was accessible to the common man. The price came down, so literacy started to happen."

In addition to empowering commoners, the printing press greatly accelerated the progress of science and technology.

"New ideas started to propagate. Newton would read Galileo and they would both read Copernicus. Scientific information was exchanged," Warnock said. "Great things started to happen with books. It is wonderful to see how these developments spread. These books were not only great artifacts and testimonies of discovery, but also more of a window on the world."

Warnock’s interest in the history of publishing and typography increased during a trip to London with his wife Marva and son Christopher. That journey resulted in Warnock’s self-described obsession with book collecting.

"My wife and family and I were in London in 1987 for an antique fair when we came across Mag’s Bookstore in the Berkeley Square area," Warnock recalled. "My son found a copy of Euclid’s Elements, the first English printing, from 1570. It had these wonderful geometric figures and pop-ups to demonstrate the geometry. I flinched when I looked at the price, but Adobe had just gone public so Marva said, ‘Go ahead, buy it.’"

That initial purchase led to Warnock’s preoccupation with rare book collecting, which he defined as "a bona fide disease."

"I was quite happy with the Euclid edition, but then you get home and put it in your bookcase," he said, pausing and smiling for the punch line. "When it is the only one of its kind on the shelf from the 1570s, you look up and say, ‘You know, the book needs friends.’"

And so Warnock became hooked. He soon discovered that all kinds of ancient books are available for sale through exclusive auction houses.

"You really can buy the first edition of Newton or Galileo," he said. "They are rare, but they are on the market. I’ve been dealing with dealers for the last 15 years. My collection includes books that changed the world."

Warnock’s amazing library features titles from some of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization—Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, Machiavelli, Hume, Berkeley, Kant, Descartes, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Some of the books are written in German or Latin, which Warnock cannot read, but he said he buys an English translation of each one so that he can understand the contents. Due to his love of books, Warnock founded Octavo Corporation in Palo Alto in 1997. Octavo creates CD-ROMs to show every page of rare books and manuscripts in a digital format.

During his career, Warnock became increasingly interested in the long history of typography and graphic design. In fact, his wife Marva is a graphic designer whose work helped Warnock to shape such leading graphics programs as Adobe Illustrator.

"I really appreciate typography," Warnock said. "I’m not just coming at it from a purely technical point of view, as I appreciate the history of the art."

As if to demonstrate his commitment to history, Warnock showed off his stunning copy of Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, from 1468.

"It’s not fragile," Warnock said in an understatement, holding up the hefty tome bound in solid wooden covers, complete with metal clasps and an iron chain. "You can actually feel the texture of the type from printing. You don’t put this book in your pocket or take it to bed at night, but you do chain it to the library wall."

The Warnock collection also includes the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in three volumes. The first volume only covered the letters A and B, while the other two volumes featured terms from the rest of the alphabet. Warnock guessed that the encyclopaedia’s original editors only realized the scope of their undertaking after the first volume, and therefore decided to minimize the project over the next two volumes.

Perhaps Warnock’s most precious holding is the first broadsheet edition of the Bill of Rights, which was printed in Maryland. Warnock obtained it from a dealer in Baltimore who spent three months researching the legitimacy of the document. Only seven surviving copies of the Bill of Rights are known to exist, and all are preserved in institutions except for the treasure owned by Warnock.


The company name, Adobe Systems, was not derived from clay brick dwellings of the Southwest, but rather from Adobe Creek, which winds behind Warnock and Geschke’s houses in Los Altos, where they have lived as neighbors for nearly three decades. Warnock and Geschke sought out various other names for the company, but all were taken so they settled on Adobe.

Geschke has a strong personal background in the printing field, as his father and grandfather were both letter-press photo engravers.

"Growing up, I never knew my father without ink on his hands," Geschke recalled.

Now 60, Geschke retired as Adobe’s president in March, but he still shares co-chairman status with CEO Warnock, who is slightly younger at 59. Geschke described their lengthy professional relationship as "a complete partnership," and although Warnock is often perceived as the technical visionary and Geschke as the operations boss, they actually shared both responsibilities over the years.

"One of the reasons for our success was that we could be 100 percent substitutes for each other," Geschke said. "It’s neat having such strong mutual respect for one another. We usually agree. Of course we’ve had different points of view sometimes, but we’ve never had a major falling-out. We’ve maintained a strong friendship through all these years."

Geschke and his wife Nan remain close friends with Warnock and his wife Marva. When asked how the two Adobe chieftains deal with their enormous success, Geschke said, "We’re married to wives who keep us humble."

Unfortunately, the four friends underwent a terrifying ordeal in humility in 1992, when Geschke was literally kidnapped at gunpoint for five days.

Upon receiving the news, Nan Geschke and the Warnocks discussed their options. Despite apprehensions about death threats, they approached law enforcement authorities for help. An FBI behavioral psychologist coached Geschke’s daughter to drop off a knapsack filled with $650,000 in ransom money on the beach near Fort Ord at midnight.

FBI agents soon rescued Geschke from his captor’s closet, and although he was physically unharmed, he said he suffered great mental and emotional anguish from the incident. The culprits, a 26-year-old Syrian named Mouhannad Albukhari, and a 24-year-old Jordanian named Ahmad Mohammad Sayeh, were captured and convicted for kidnapping, robbery and making terrorist threats.

"My wife called John, who made a decision urging my wife to go to the FBI when I was kidnapped, even though death threats had been made against my family," Geschke said. "I never want to have to return that favor, but if forced to, I would certainly do so."

Despite that terrible incident, Geschke remains upbeat about Adobe’s success and his years of devotion to the desktop publishing industry.

"The wonderful gift that Adobe gave to John and I was the ability to have an impact on the world. Very few people in their working lives have that opportunity," he commented. "You almost can’t pick up a piece of visual communication without our technology in it, be it newspapers, magazines, movies, ads, packaging, commercials or catalogs. That’s pretty amazing."

Warnock said that when he was growing up, there was only the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog.

"Now, you know all those catalogs that you get deluged with every day?" he grinned. "Well, we’re responsible for that."

Indeed, the alliance of the big three "A" companies—Adobe, Apple and Aldus—resulted in an explosion of printed materials including the mail catalog craze, for better or worse.

Aldus founder Paul Brainerd recognized that personal computers would be far more efficient in designing pages than expensive printing systems. He coined the term "desktop publishing" and set out to replace expensive proprietary layout systems. After building Aldus into a $250 million per year software maker, Brainerd sold the company to Adobe in 1994.

Meanwhile, Tim Gill, the inventor of Desktop Color Separations (DCS), created QuarkXPress in 1987. That program soon overtook PageMaker as the de facto standard for page layout projects. Quark followed PageMaker to market by two years, and Warnock said that extra window of time allowed Quark’s developers to create a basic extensible setup, which simplified the addition of new features.

"Everyone from church newsletters to the New York Times were using Quark," Cline said. "Adobe tracked that whole revolution."

Now Adobe is ready to battle back with a new page layout application, InDesign, which was released last fall. Like Quark, InDesign is customizable and Warnock thinks it will be "a serious contender" as the two products compete head-on.

Adobe has a long track record as a leader in all facets of digital publishing. Illustrator, the industry standard for illustration software, was first released in 1986. That success was followed in 1989, when Adobe acquired PhotoShop, the preeminent software for image editing.

The introduction of FrameMaker in 1998 added a high-end technical documentation tool that allows users to publish lengthy, content-rich documents across various computer platforms. Also in 1998, Adobe acquired GoLive, a Web authoring program that provided the company with its first Internet platform.

Other winning programs include Adobe Type Manager, which organizes typefaces, and Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF), known as Acrobat, which is the software standard for sharing cross-platform files.

In recent years, Adobe has worked toward a complete integration of all these related programs to make them interact seamlessly. Essentially, Warnock and Geschke created a one-stop software empire that provides tools for all aspects of content creation. Warnock attributes much of Adobe’s enduring leadership to this comprehensive integration strategy.

"We provide products to service more aspects in this space than anybody else," he said. "When you look at all aspects—video, animation, film, print, CD-ROMs—we’re integrating these products so they work really well with each other. That’s really the major secret of our success."

In addition, Warnock said that branding and customer relations have always gone hand in hand.

"We’re very careful never to dilute our brand," he said. "All along, we paid a great deal of attention to the reputation of our products and how we treat customers."

For example, Warnock cited Microsoft as a famous brand name that has been severely diluted in recent years.

"Originally, Microsoft was associated with an operating system, then PC software, and now it’s associated with all kinds of random stuff," he said. "We don’t stand for other products, apart from our core mission."


The Internet is the latest medium in the long history of publishing, as it combines the traditional components of page design, text and imagery with newer tools including sound, animation and interactivity. While the Net hit a home run for consumers and businesses, it was a great big curveball for desktop publishing companies.

"The Internet was good news and bad news," Warnock recalled. The good news was the 1992 launch of Acrobat, a pioneering Adobe product for collaborative document sharing. Acrobat allows documents from different sources to be viewed, annotated and printed from any computer.

"At the time, there was no such thing as broad-based Internet usage. When the Internet exploded in 1994, everyone figured out what Acrobat was good for," Warnock said. "The Web clearly enabled the growth of document interchange and Acrobat, which became one of our major products."

The bad news, obviously, was the need for the publishing industry to grapple with the unique nature of a completely new medium. Warnock said "every [Adobe] product has been moving closer to the Web" since then, in an attempt to unify the company’s graphics offerings.

"The question became, how do you make the transition from traditional publishing and accommodate all the different media types—documents, photos, sound, video, graphics and animation?" he said. "Most people want to reuse their assets, such as stories, clip art, logos, films or videos. You don’t want to author for print and then separately for the Web. The place where all of that comes together is at the component or asset level, not at the user level. That’s where our software comes in. Corporations realize that a lot of assets—photos and video clips—need one common set of tools. That’s where every corporate head is."

Adobe has plowed deeper into the Web field with its new LiveMotion software, which won the "Best of Show" award at the Spring Internet World 2000 conference in Los Angeles. LiveMotion gives Web developers a flexible tool to create interactive graphics and animation on the Web.

"Nobody on the professional publishing side has gotten into Web publishing as aggressively as Adobe," Geschke said. "Macromedia has gotten in very aggressively, but it is an Internet company."

Adobe’s LiveMotion now competes directly with Macromedia’s Flash technology, which is used to develop hot Web sites with the addition of more motion, color and sound.

In just a few short years, it seems that the Internet has turned everything inside out, including book publishing. Stephen King’s recent best-selling novella, Riding the Bullet, was sold exclusively as an e-book using the Adobe PDF format. This event signaled the dawn of a new era in publishing, as writers could not only self-publish books, but also distribute them over the Internet too.

When some 400,000 downloads of King’s e-book buried Amazon,com on the first day of sales, analysts forewarned a startling change for the economics of book publishing. Warnock noted that King no longer required a publisher to reach his audience. He could just as easily have cut a deal with Amazon or Yahoo, eliminating the primary intermediary between authors and readers—namely, publishers.

"Distribution models are changing very dramatically," Warnock said. "Everybody is trying to disintermediate each other. We’ll see where it ends."

Warnock predicted blurring roles for news, entertainment and education as the Internet, television and video become more intertwined. However he still views the Web as more of an information conduit than an entertainment tool.

"Will the Internet kill print? Not at all. It’s never going to happen. Will the Internet kill TV? No, but it will change their roles. The Internet is a new publishing medium that is not rehashing TV or newspapers. It is a new medium with a new authoring component," he said. "TV came along, but radio didn’t go away. Radio came along, but newspapers didn’t go away. The Internet came along, but publishing will not go away."

At the same time, Warnock recognized that most people in the Internet Age do not rely on the daily newspaper for their stock quotes anymore. He reasoned that consumers will continue to depend on newspapers and magazines for in-depth coverage and analysis, but they’ll go to CNN or a Web site to pick up the latest breaking news.

"The explosion of printing over the last 20 years has resulted in the democratization of publishing," Warnock observed. "People began to realize, we can start our own magazine. Now the Internet is the ultimate democratizer of information. You can get whatever you want."

The Internet phenomenon has resulted in other tangible benefits for Adobe, apart from creating markets for completely new software products. Like any good appliance, the Net has succeeded in streamlining a wide range of human tasks.

"Within our company, we pretty much run paperless, with 250,000 e-mails per day," Warnock said. "We don’t FedEx documents, we don’t fill out forms. All of this made us far more efficient. The boom in our economy is not a mystical boom. It is a flat-out productivity boom."

Warnock remains optimistic about the Web’s potential to cross-pollinate existing communications platforms. For instance, he predicted that the Internet soon will allow video clips and sounds to be mixed into books, much like a DJ sampling from old records.

"It’s not hard to put a movie or animation or sound into an electronic book. We’ll see new media expressions that will exist in the ether of the virtual world. We’re already going through a new Enlightenment," he said. "The Internet has obviously shown us there’s a whole new way to navigate information. You can do massive searches across tons and tons of information. Books never allowed that."

After so many years of balancing cutting-edge technology with a deep respect for history, Warnock is extremely proud of Adobe and its rightful place in the annals of publishing.

"I think there’s a big component of publishing that has changed because of Adobe," he said. "Nearly every single catalog, newspaper, magazine, TV program, advertisement, movie and Web site that you see has a piece of Adobe technology in it. I believe we have been instrumental in changing the world of communications. What could be a greater legacy than that?"