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  • Caspar James - Tech Journalist

The co-founder of Adobe and inventor of the PDF, Charles 'Chuck' Geschke, dies at 81

Along with John Warnock, Charles Geschke co-founded the graphics and software company Adobe in 1982. He was instrumental in developing the Portable Document Format technology, better known as PDF. Born on September 11, 1939. Raised in Ohio, his father was a photo engraver, who produced the metal plates that clamped onto presses to produce images for books, magazines and newspapers. Adobe's products were to make the technology his father used totally obsolete. Today the PDF is one of the most widely used file formats in printing.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen wrote in an email to the company's employees. “This is a huge loss for the entire Adobe community and the technology industry, for whom he has been a guide and hero for decades.”

Having attended Xavier University, studying liberal arts and he even contemplated becoming a priest, but instead, he pursued a Masters in Mathematics and by accident, stumbled upon computer programming in the 1960s, as a math teacher at John Carroll University, through one of his former students. This student, who was employed at a software company, taught Geschke how to write simple programs. Geschke became hooked and enrolled in a doctoral program at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1973, he graduated with a Ph.D. in Computer Science. He joined the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) research department and was known as an 'ARPA brat' – the type of person that was to define the Silicon Valley's startup culture in the 1970s and 80s.

Xerox hired Geschke to work in their Palo Alto Research Center, where he met his future Adobe co-founder, and best friend, John Warnock. When Xerox executives informed the two men that they needed seven years to launch a new product, they were put off by the lengthy time frame. They decided that in order to move at a faster pace, they'd need to start their own company.

This new company was to be funded by venture capital firm Hambrecht & Quist and Adobe was launched in 1982. Apple Computer was one of their first customers, using Adobe's PostScript language to power their LaserWriter Printers. Years later Apple would team up with Microsoft and attempt to challenge Adobe in desktop publishing, but Adobe triumphed in what is known as 'the font wars.'

Geschke was a kind and humble man. He wanted to surround himself with smarter people and referred to that as 'a larger pool.' At the age of 52, Geschke was kidnapped at gunpoint while arriving at the Adobe office and held for four days in Hollister, California, when the FBI found and rescued him.

Along with PostScript and the PDF, Adobe has developed leading software used by creatives, including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and Premiere Pro. Former president Barack Obama awarded Warnock and Geschke with the National Medal of Technology in 2009.





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