John E. Warnock

John E. Warnock

Awarded the Marconi Prize in 2010

Cited for his contributions in the field of industry-standard printing and imaging technology.

The 2010 Marconi Society Prize will be awarded to Adobe Systems founders, John E. Warnock and Charles M. Geschke, visionary business leaders and technological innovators who together helped fundamentally transform the world of print communications from a manual, mechanical process to a digital work flow. The two were selected for the prestigious award considered the highest honor specifically devoted to the field of communications and information science for their research on printing and imaging technology and their development of Adobe® PostScript®, a revolutionary software technology that is now the worldwide printing and imaging standard used by print service providers, publishers, corporations and government agencies around the globe.

The duo will be awarded the $100,000 Marconi Prize October 15th at the annual Marconi Awards Dinner at the Rosewood Hotel in Menlo Park, CA.

“The selection of Charles M. Geschke and John E. Warnock as co-recipients of the 2010 Marconi Prize signals the evolving nature of what we mean by communications technology,” said Jim Massey, the 1999 Marconi Award winner and Fellow.

The Marconi Society, established in 1975, annually recognizes a living scientist whose work in the field of communications and information technology advances the social, economic and cultural improvement of all humanity. Recent winners have included Bell Labs scientists Andrew Chraplyvy and Robert Tkach for their work on optical fiber communication systems; Professor David Payne of the University of Southampton in the UK, another optical fiber pioneer who led the development of the erbium-doped optical fiber amplifier; Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page; MIT Professor Ron Rivest, co-inventor of RSA encryption; Stanford Professor John Cioffi, the inventor of modern high speed modems that enabled DSL; and Vint Cerf, most commonly known as the father of the Internet who developed the first commercial email system.

Geschke and Warnock met in the late-70’s in Silicon Valley. Geschke had recently received his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon and Warnock had received his from the University of Utah. Geschke worked as a researcher and group manager in the computer science lab at Xerox PARC, a renowned research center responsible for such important developments as laser printing, Ethernet, the modern personal computer graphical user interface (GUI), ubiquitous computing, and very-large-scale-integration (VLSI). Warnock worked for Evans & Sutherland at Ames Research Laboratory.

In 1978, Geschke interviewed and hired Warnock for a position at PARC. From the start, their similar backgrounds and philosophies forged a close bond between them.

In 1979, while at PARC, Warnock and a coworker created the precursor to PostScript, a device- independent system called JaM that incorporated graphics. Convinced of its potential, Warnock and Geschke continued to work on its further development. In 1980 Geschke started the Imaging Sciences Laboratory at Xerox, dedicated to exploring graphics and printing. The new team produced Interpress, a melding of JaM and Xerox’s existing printing language. Though somewhat compromised by the many protocols of Xerox, Interpress was a significant advance. But though the Xerox PARC team was excited at the potential of Interpress, Xerox Corporation decided not to include it among the firm’s commercial products.

Undeterred, Warnock and Geschke sensed an opportunity. If Xerox was not going to seize this moment, they were prepared to do it themselves. In 1982 they formed a new company, Adobe Systems, named after the creek that ran behind Warnock’s Los Altos home.

They needed funding. A former teacher of Warnock’s suggested they meet with venture capitalist, Bill Hambrecht of the Hambrecht and Quist venture capital firm. Geschke and Warnock unveiled a complicated business plan to develop systems composed of high-powered workstations and printers for in-house use at large corporations. Leveraging PostScript’s device-independent design, the workstation would be connected to a laser printer for draft copies and to a typesetter for camera ready output. Six other companies were trying to do the same thing; Hambrecht found the proposal so appealing he wrote them a personal check for $50,000 for startup costs. They shook hands and later received $2.5 million dollars from Hambrecht and Quist.

It was the only venture capital Adobe ever needed. They moved the business out of their homes, and quickly built a small organization that included a few close associates. Their first product, PostScript, bore little resemblance to Xerox’s Interpress; technically it was much closer to JaM, but mindful of PostScript’s origins as the Design System at Evans and Sutherland, Adobe entered into a licensing agreement with Warnock’s former employer to avoid any intellectual property issues.

Then they made a critical and fortunate decision. They had always believed they would be manufacturing hardware but they came to a startling realization: by opting for a technology licensing business model, they were relieved of the burden of manufacturing yet could profit handsomely.

They soon were attracting the attention of Silicon Valley’s heavy hitters, including Steve Jobs, who offered them a considerable sum for their business. It only served to confirm the value of what they’d created. (When Jobs, realized they wouldn’t sell him the company, he instead invested $2.5 million in Adobe. Apple cashed out the stock six years later for $87 million.)

The compatibility and success of the Adobe-Apple relationship lay in a shared belief¬ that technology could transcend ordinary computing to achieve a higher aesthetic purpose. Jobs, Warnock and Geschke believed their companies should stand at the intersection of art and technology. The Mac was the first computer with commercially available graphical user interface and Apple was doing typography on the screen, while with PostScript Adobe was doing type on the printed page. Apple’s LaserWriter, the world’s first Adobe PostScript printer, the Macintosh, and Aldus Pagemaker enabled Adobe, Apple and Aldus to launch the Desktop Publishing revolution.

By the end of 1985, the market had embraced PostScript, which fundamentally improved the cost, productivity and efficiency of the graphic arts, printing and publishing businesses. Geschke and Warnock’s fledging company had taken communications to a new level and in little more than 10 years transformed the world of print communications from a manual, mechanical process to a digital work flow. Today all communications technologies are converting to digital and Adobe’s products continue to expand the technological frontiers of photography, video production, animation, digital communication and the World Wide Web. Its ubiquitous programs include, among others, Adobe Photoshop®, Illustrator®, Acrobat®, InDesign®, Adobe Premiere®, and Adobe Flash®.

Adobe’s success has grown over the decades. It acquired over 20 companies and invested in many more, always driven by the vision and collaboration between Warnock and Geschke.

Bill Hambrecht, the founder of Hambrecht & Quist says it best, “The mutual trust and respect for each other’s ideas never wavered. I honestly have never seen a better partnership; it’s truly unique. They always stayed in sync with each other and were both visionaries in the business. From a two employee business in Los Altos, California to over 7,000 employees world-wide, the Adobe culture has always remained the same. Care and concern, taking responsibility, managing well and loving your job, are the cornerstones of the Adobe way of life. The skills for their craft, coupled with their ability to see beyond the curve of their profession have allowed them to transform step by step, an entire universe of work. I was taught so much by them.”

Artists, graphic designers, writers, printers, publishers have all experienced the Adobe products that have transformed their particular fields but probably no one has felt the impact like web users. PDF, like PostScript has become another industry standard.

Charles Geschke retired from active management as president of Adobe in 2000. John Warnock stepped aside as CEO in 2000 and retired in early 2001. Today Geschke and Warnock are co-chairmen of the board.

Warnock continues to be active in the software industry. He is a frequent speaker on the impact of computing technologies on business and publishing. He is active on or a past member of several business and nonprofit boards in addition to Adobe, including the Sundance Institute, the American Film Institute, and the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. He is also on the board of ebrary, MongoNet, and the chairman of the board of the Salon Media Group.

Geschke and Warnock have both been honored countless times for their technical and managerial achievements. In 1999 both were inducted as Fellows of the Association for Computing Machinery. They received the AeA Annual Medal of Achievement Award from the American Electronics Association in 2006, and are the first software executives to receive this honor. Geschke and Warnock were among the 2008 winners of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, which is the USA’s highest honor for technological and scientific achievement and both were honored for their pioneering contributions that spurred the desktop publishing revolution and for changing the way people create and engage with information and entertainment across multiple mediums including print, Web and video.

In addition, both have won awards from the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers); the National Computer Graphics Association; and the Rochester Institute of Technology. They have also received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Ernst & Young, Merrill Lynch and Inc. Magazine, and the ACM Systems Award. Warnock is the recipient of the Bodleian Medal; the Land Medal; and the Lovelace Medal and a member of the Philosophical Society. They are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and the National Academy of Engineering.

Geschke is a recipient of the John W. Gardner Leadership Award. He is a board member for several educational, arts and non-profit organizations. Geschke is a trustee emeritus of the University of San Francisco and currently holds the Rossi Chair in Entrepreneurship at the USF School of Business. He is a member of the computer science advisory board of Carnegie-Mellon University and Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. He is a board member of Tableau Software. He also serves on the boards of the San Francisco Symphony, the Commonwealth Club of California, the Egan Maritime Foundation, the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, and the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club. “Geschke and Warnock’s leadership of Adobe has been, and still is today, characterized by technical progress coupled with social responsibility,” noted Massey. “Adobe is always near the top in rankings of a ‘good place to work’ and ‘environmental concern’. They emphasized service of Adobe to the community. In winning the Marconi Prize, their entrepreneurial leadership was as important as their extraordinary scientific achievements.”