John Warnock was the founder of Adobe. It is only upon reading John Warnock’s obituaries a fortnight ago that we realised how much our experience of using a computer owes to Mr Warnock’s multiple innovations. As Clay Risen explains, “Until Dr. Warnock and Adobe came along, desktop printing was an arduous, expensive and unsatisfying endeavor. Users relied on either a screechy dot-matrix printer, with its pixelated text, or a specialized typesetting machine, which could cost $10,000 and take up most of a room.

Dr. Warnock developed protocols that came loaded into desktop printers themselves, and that accurately rendered what a computer sent them. Adobe’s first such protocol, PostScript, went into Apple’s revolutionary LaserWriter, released in 1985, and within a few years it was the industry standard.

PostScript, licensed to hundreds of software and hardware companies, helped make Adobe rich. But the company was largely unknown to the public until 1993, when it released Acrobat, a program designed to render and read files in what it called a Portable Document Format, or PDF.

The PDF was the result of Dr. Warnock’s abiding obsession since graduate school: finding a way to ensure that the graphics displayed on one computer — whether words or images — looked the exact same on another computer, or on a page from a printer, regardless of the manufacturer.

“It had been a holy grail in computer science to figure out how to communicate documents,” he said in a 2019 interview with Oxford University.

Acrobat and the PDF were not immediately successful, even after Adobe made its Acrobat Reader free to download. The company’s board wanted to retire them, but Dr. Warnock persisted.

“I think the crossover point is if I can go to General Motors and say, ‘I can deliver your information more quickly and more cheaply than you can on paper,’” he told The New York Times in 1991. “You’re talking about savings of tens of millions of dollars.””

In addition, to Adobe Acrobat, Mr Warnock was the brain behind a whole suite of design programs – InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator – which allowed the modern graphic design industry to come to life. To this day, these programs are the workhorses which designers use to ply their trade. ““Making the computer into a machine that we can use to produce visual and print culture, that wasn’t foreordained,” David Brock, the director of curatorial affairs at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., said in a phone interview. “That’s where he was really instrumental.””

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