You can never do it alone – to the death of Charles Geschke


Charles Geschke died in California at the age of 81. Together with John Warnock, he founded Adobe Systems in 1982, where the PostScript printer programming language originated. From 1987 to 1994 he headed Adobe and was responsible for the acquisition of Aldus for $ 446 million. Later he was the chairman of the supervisory board, which he was a member until April 2020.

Charles Matthew Geschke was born on September 11, 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio. The mother worked in court, the father was a printer and came from a large printer family. His professional judgment played an important role in the development of PostScript. After school, Charles Geschke studied at the Jesuit Xavier University, first classical languages, then mathematics. From 1963 to 1968 he taught in this subject. He received his PhD from Carnegie Mellon University in 1972 with a thesis on compilers and then went to Xerox’s famous PARC research center.

In 1978, Geschke became director of the Imaging Sciences Laboratory at PARC, hiring a number of programmers, including John Warnock, who was a year younger. Together with Martin Nevell, he developed the printer programming language JaM (John and Martin Programming Language) for Xerox printers. The significantly more complex Interpress programming language for Xerox laser printers was developed under Geschke’s direction. Warnock and Geschke wanted to extend the programming language developed for Xerox so that it could control all types of printers and typesetting machines. When the two could not get their way with this idea, they left PARC in 1982 and founded Adobe Systems, named after a brook at the Warnock house. Together with six other programmers who came along from PARC, Geschke and Warnock developed PostScript, initially for the Apple Laserwriter, which came onto the market in 1985 and established desktop publishing. The Motorola 68000 processor was controlled to run PostScript, and the program itself filled a ROM of half a megabyte, like itself John Warnock remembered. More printers followed.

The great success of PostScript and DTP came with the disadvantage that the young company Adobe was initially heavily dependent on Apple. The next two products, Adobe Illustrator in 1987 and Photoshop in 1990, were initially geared towards Apple’s hardware. Under the management of Charles Geschke, Adobe left the niche market in 1994 when the company Aldus with the DTP program Pagemaker was bought up. On this basis, Adobe was able to concentrate on the distribution of electronic documents. In 1993 the Portable Document Format (PDF) was created, which became successful because Geschke and Warnock decided to deliver the PDF reader free of charge.

In 1994 Geschke withdrew from the operative business and switched to the company’s supervisory board. Together with Warnock, he has received a number of awards, including the 2008 US National Medal of Technology, presented by US President Obama. Together with his wife Nancy, he received the 2012 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for promoting Catholic educational institutions. In an interview, “Chuck” Geschke said, like Steve Jobs, that you shouldn’t be afraid and take risks. But he added: “Focus on the people who will help you to achieve what you want to achieve, because you will not be able to do it alone.”


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