Co-Founder of Adobe Helped Create the First PDF

John Warnock developed PostScript with Charles Geschke
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 21, 2023 6:00 PM CDT
Co-Founder of Adobe Helped Create the First PDF
John Warnock stands next to a window of color panes that represent the color swatches in the program PhotoShop at Adobe headquarters in San Jose, Calif., in 2001.   (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

John Warnock, who helped invent the PDF and co-founded Adobe Systems, has died. He was 82. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur and computer scientist died Saturday surrounded by family, Adobe said in a statement. The company didn't give a cause of death or say where Warnock died, per the AP. "John's brilliance and innovations left an indelible mark on Adobe, the technology industry and the world," Adobe said. Warnock worked for Xerox before he and colleague Charles Geschke created a company around a rejected idea in 1982. Nearly a decade later, Warnock outlined an early version of the Portable Document Format, transforming the way documents are exchanged.

Originally from the Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay, Warnock described himself as an average student when he was young. He earned an undergraduate in math and a doctorate in electrical engineering, or computer science, from the University of Utah and maintained close ties with his home state after he retired as CEO of Adobe. Warnock was the son of a prominent attorney who began to flourish when a teacher at Olympus High School took an interest in him, he told the University of Utah's alumni magazine, Continuum, in 2013. "I had an amazing teacher in high school who, essentially, completely turned me around," Warnock said. "He was really good at getting you to love mathematics, and that's when I got into it."

He made a mark while working on his master's. In 1964, he solved the Jacobson radical, an abstract algebra problem that had been a mystery since it was posed eight years before. The following year he met his wife, Marva Mullins, and married her five weeks later. He was hired at IBM, starting his training in computer science. He earned a doctorate at the University of Utah, where he joined cutting-edge researchers working on a Department of Defense-funded precursor to the internet in the 1960s. Even then, Warnock was working on rendering images on computers. In the late 1970s, Warnock moved to Palo Alto, California, to work for Xerox on interactive computer graphics, the AP reports.

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There, he met Geschke and went to work developing InterPress, a printing and graphics protocol. When Xerox balked, they decided to create their own company. They founded Adobe in 1982 and created PostScript, a program that helped make small-scale printing feasible for the first time. The company later created the PDF, which let people create electronic versions of documents that could be preserved and sent it to other users, who could search and review them. With that, Adobe took off, and PDF eventually replaced many paper copies in legal, business and personal communication. Other iconic programs, such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, followed before Warnock stepped down as CEO in 2000.

(More obituary stories.)

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