How PostScript Kickstarted Desktop Publishing

The story of PostScript has many alternative aspects. It’s a story about profound modifications in human literacy in addition to a narrative of commerce secrets and techniques inside supply code. It’s a story in regards to the significance of groups and of geometry. And it’s a story of the motivations and educations of engineer-entrepreneurs.

The Laptop Historical past Museum is happy to publicly launch, for the primary time, the supply code for the breakthrough printing know-how, PostScript. (Register to obtain the code right here.) We thank Adobe for the corporate’s permission and assist, and Adobe cofounder John Warnock for championing this launch.

The Huge Image of Printing

Printing has all the time been a know-how with profound cultural penalties. Movable sort first emerged in East Asia. Later, in Fifteenth-century Europe, the printing press developed from know-how from wine and oil presses mixed with novel practices to mass-produce sort utilizing steel casting. With the printing press got here a revolution in human literacy. Books turned cheaper and faster to supply, and because of this appeared in ever higher numbers. Literacy and libraries expanded. Larger entry to info reworked studying, analysis, authorities, commerce, and the humanities.

A black and white photo of two smiling, bearded white men sitting at a conference room John Warnock [left] and Chuck Geschke based Adobe Programs in December 1982.Adobe and Doug Menuez

From the beginning of Adobe Programs (now Adobe) 40 years in the past, in December 1982, the agency’s cofounders envisioned a brand new form of printing press—one which was essentially digital, utilizing the most recent advances in computing. Preliminary discussions by cofounders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock with pc makers similar to Digital Gear Corp. and Apple satisfied them that software program was the important thing to the brand new digital printing press. Their imaginative and prescient: Any pc may join with printers and typesetters by way of a typical language to print phrases and pictures on the highest constancy. Led by Warnock, Adobe assembled a group of skillful and artistic programmers to create this new language. Along with the 2 cofounders, the group included Doug Brotz, Invoice Paxton, and Ed Taft. The language they created was an entire programming language, named PostScript, and was launched by Adobe in 1984.

On this video, Geschke discusses how Adobe got here to concentrate on PostScript:

Chuck Geschke discusses how Adobe got here to concentrate on PostScript as their preliminary enterpriseLaptop Historical past Museum

By treating every little thing to be printed the identical, in a typical mathematical description, PostScript granted talents provided nowhere else. Textual content and pictures may very well be scaled, rotated, and moved at will, as within the opening picture to this essay. Adobe licensed PostScript to pc and printer producers, and the enterprise jumped right into a interval of hypergrowth. There was great demand for the brand new software program printing press. Laptop makers from the established worlds of minicomputers and workstations to the quickly rising world of private computer systems adopted the know-how. Printer makers joined in, from these promoting well-established printers to the brand new laser printers {and professional} typesetters. Software program makers rushed to make their choices suitable with PostScript.

Fueling this development have been advances Adobe was making round a important want: offering professional-quality digital typefaces—and the numerous fonts that comprise them—to be used inside PostScript. Adobe developed a recent strategy to describing typefaces geometrically, and the corporate licensed most of the most well-known typefaces, together with these for Asian languages. PostScript and the Adobe Sort Library revolutionized printing and publishing, and kickstarted the explosive development of desktop publishing beginning within the Nineteen Eighties. PostScript turned so profitable that it grew right into a de facto customary internationally, with Adobe publishing the small print of the PostScript language and permitting others to create merchandise that have been PostScript-compatible. In the present day, most printers depend on PostScript know-how both straight or by means of a know-how that grew out of it: PDF, or Moveable Doc Format.

Samples of a typeface called Trajan.Trajan was an early typeface created by Adobe utilizing its new applied sciences.Adobe

Warnock championed the event of PDF within the Nineties, reworking PostScript right into a know-how that was safer and simpler to make use of for digital paperwork, however retaining all the advantages of interoperability, constancy, and high quality. Over the many years, Adobe continued to reinforce PDF’s options, making it an important customary for creating digital paperwork, printing them, and displaying graphics of every kind on screens from desktops to laptops to smartphones and smartwatches.

In the present day, the digital printing press has far exceeded something envisioned by the Adobe cofounders after they first got down to create PostScript with their group. Nearly every little thing printed on paper is completed so utilizing computer systems. Certainly, in lots of areas of the world, computer systems have turn into the overwhelming instrument for writing. As Doug Brotz places it, PostScript “democratized the print world.” With PDF now so profitable that it too has turn into a world customary, the variety of PDFs created annually measures within the trillions.

PostScript’s Graphical Roots

Typography is the mix of artwork and approach that’s involved with the show of writing, particularly as printed. It’s involved with the form and placement of characters, phrases, paragraphs, and so forth. On this, typography is completely graphical, a matter of visible design. Digital typography is not any completely different, simply targeted to pc strategies and shows. It’s becoming, then, that the roots of PostScript and its contributions to the event of digital typography lie in superior pc graphics.

Warnock, the architect for PostScript, launched his computing profession as a graduate pupil on the College of Utah on the shut of the Sixties. Utah was then one of many world’s foremost facilities for superior pc graphics analysis. In his work there after which at a pc graphics agency run by Utah’s lead professors, David Evans and Ivan Sutherland, Warnock embraced their attribute geometric strategy to pc graphics. Shapes, scenes, pictures, and animations have been created and designed utilizing arithmetic to explain the geometry of the visible and utilizing varied pc procedures to comprehend these descriptions as imagery. Specifically, Warnock was impressed with the facility of a procedural pc language, referred to as the Design System, that he and John Gaffney helped to develop at Evans and Sutherland’s agency.

In 1978, Chuck Geschke had simply arrange the Imaging Science Laboratory inside the famed Xerox Palo Alto Analysis Middle (PARC). Geschke employed Warnock to take up a urgent problem for the lab. PARC was making a set of experimental computer systems that had new sorts of shows and that have been meant for use with an array of novel printers—as PARC had just lately invented the laser printer. Warnock’s problem was to create a device-independent graphics system that may very well be used throughout any pc, show, or printer.

Warnock noticed that one thing just like the Design System may work on this new computing atmosphere, however refocused from 3D graphics to PARC’s concern with professional-quality printing and high-quality show of textual content and pictures. The end result was one other geometrical, procedural language referred to as JaM, which Warnock created in partnership with PARC researcher Martin Newell. (The illustration at high was created utilizing JaM.)

From 1979 into 1981, JaM turned a serious part in a brand new effort in Geschke’s laboratory. This was a push to develop a business printing language that may very well be used with the manufacturing model of PARC’s experimental computer systems referred to as the Xerox Star, and extra broadly used throughout all of Xerox’s strains of printers. A bunch of six researchers—Geschke, Butler Lampson, Jerry Mendelson, Brian Reid, Bob Sproull, and Warnock—melded the JaM strategy with different, extra established protocol strategies. The end result was named Interpress.

Xerox management was rapidly satisfied of the potential for Interpress, deciding that it will certainly be developed into the agency’s printing customary. Nonetheless, shifting to this customary would take a number of years, throughout which era Interpress could be underneath wraps. This delay spurred Geschke and Warnock to maneuver. They would go away PARC and located a startup wherein they’d create a rival to Interpress, however constructed extra absolutely alongside the geometric, procedural language strategy that Warnock discovered to be so highly effective. For the brand new startup to create this new language, PostScript, because the digital printing press, it will require an excellent group.

On this video clip, Geschke discusses the motivations behind the formation of Adobe:

Chuck Geschke discusses the motivations behind the formation of AdobeLaptop Historical past Museum

On this video clip, Warnock discusses key early actions in establishing Adobe.

John Warnock discusses key early actions in establishing AdobeLaptop Historical past Museum

The Workforce that Created PostScript

In December 1982, when Geschke and Warnock based Adobe Programs, the brand new printing language they meant to create was on the very heart of their plans, hopes, and imaginative and prescient. The way forward for the agency hinged on PostScript. Geschke and Warnock have been themselves each extremely skilled software program creators. Geschke had earned his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon College engaged on superior compilers and had been a frontrunner within the creation of an necessary programming language developed and used at PARC referred to as Mesa. As mentioned, Warnock had a Ph.D. in pc graphics software program from the College of Utah and years of expertise creating languages precisely like their envisioned PostScript. However maybe due to their intensive background in creating cutting-edge software program, the cofounders knew they wanted to broaden their group to create PostScript.

A black and white photo of a group of 20 people posing on the deck of a large sailboat.Early Adobe workers and buddies sail within the San Francisco Bay on an organization outing.Adobe

Adobe’s PostScript group rapidly took form as three different extremely proficient software program creators from PARC determined to hitch with Geschke and Warnock: Doug Brotz, Invoice Paxton, and Ed Taft. Brotz had earned a Ph.D. in pc science from Stanford earlier than becoming a member of PARC in 1977. Paxton additionally had a Ph.D. in pc science from Stanford and joined PARC the identical 12 months as Brotz. Taft had joined PARC earlier, employed by Geschke proper after ending his undergraduate research at Harvard in 1973. Collectively, and with enter from Adobe colleagues like Andy Shore, the group created PostScript by the shut of 1984.

A Commerce Secret within the Supply Code

Adobe’s dedication to a geometrical strategy for PostScript carried penalties for the way it will deal with typefaces—distinctive character shapes—and the quite a few fonts that really understand these typefaces at completely different sizes and types (level sizes, common, italic, daring, and so forth). At PARC, fonts had been created as a set of particular person hand-crafted bitmap pictures, with static definitions of which bits have been on and which have been off for every character of the font. In the meantime, although, researchers at PARC and past have been exploring methods to outline character shapes mathematically. At Adobe, the group adopted this mathematical description strategy to fonts, in line with the broader course of PostScript, defining characters utilizing Bézier curves.

However this nonetheless left the issue of device-independence. How may Adobe’s font definitions deal with completely different shows, printers, and completely different resolutions on each? For eyes accustomed to studying revealed textual content, even the slightest inconsistencies or irregularities within the look of textual content are readily observed and jarring. At decrease resolutions, the possibility for these defects solely turns into worse. Rendering fonts reliably at completely different resolutions was a important situation. And not using a resolution, PostScript may by no means turn into the digital printing press.

An illustration showing a lowercase u201cmu201d on a grid, with shaded squares around the letter and horizontal and vertical lines roughly tracing it.Components of Adobe’s secret resolution to creating professional-quality fonts for various resolutions on shows and printers.John Warnock

It was Warnock who got here up with Adobe’s resolution, turning the issue itself into the answer. The decision of the output would decide a set of procedures that will right the fonts to optimize their look at that decision. Warnock, Brotz, and Paxton labored on the procedures for months, ultimately deciding on methods to outline key points of the font shapes and becoming them to the pixel rows and columns of the desired decision, altering some points of the character shapes relying on the decision. Ultimately, the Adobe group determined that best benefit lay in preserving these approaches and procedures as a commerce secret. They stayed secret in PostScript’s supply code, identified to only a few on the firm, till Warnock publicly disclosed them in a 2010 lecture. On this video clip, Geschke discusses the commerce secret within the PostScript supply code:

Chuck Geschke discusses the commerce secret within the PostScript supply codeLaptop Historical past Museum

The model of the PostScript supply code launched to the general public by the Laptop Historical past Museum is a really early model, courting to late February 1984. Whereas this model does comprise an early model of the “font hinting” procedures later saved as a commerce secret, these approaches have been utterly rewritten, expanded, and refined by Invoice Paxton in subsequent months. These modifications have been important to the success of PostScript because it absolutely got here to market.

Editor’s word: This submit initially appeared on the weblog of the Laptop Historical past Museum.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Doug Brotz and Invoice Paxton for his or her useful feedback on a draft of this essay. Thanks to Adobe and Doug Menuez for permission to make use of a number of pictures.

This essay is predicated on oral histories and interviews carried out by the Laptop Historical past Museum in addition to a number of important revealed sources:

John E. Warnock, “The Origins of PostScript,” in IEEE Annals of the Historical past of Computing, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 68-76, Jul.-Sep. 2018, doi: 10.1109/MAHC.2018.033841112.

John E. Warnock, “Easy Concepts That Modified Printing and Publishing,” in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 156, no. 4, 2012, pp. 363–78. JSTOR,

John E. Warnock and Charles Geschke, “Founding and Rising Adobe Programs, Inc.,” in IEEE Annals of the Historical past of Computing, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 24-34, July-Sept. 2019, doi: 10.1109/MAHC.2019.2923397.

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